my boss is coming back after going AWOL for 2 years

A reader writes:

Since the start of the pandemic my boss has worked remotely. This isn’t a big issue except for two things. First, my team works in a lab as new product development. Due to the nature of our jobs, it’s nearly impossible to work from home full-time. Minus my boss, we’ve been in the office, at least half-time, for over a year and a half. While our office has done a great job keeping everyone safe, I want to give him some leeway with this as I don’t know what his home is like.

The second, much bigger issue has been that working remotely hasn’t meant “working.” My boss stopped showing up for meetings. He stopped responding to questions in emails. He even missed a demo for one of our customers. To be honest, I have no idea what work, if any, he’s done during this time. In the beginning, we did what we could to keep him involved, but it just seemed like more effort than what it was worth. Eventually we just stopped emailing him or asking him questions and started making decisions ourselves to keep our schedule moving. I mean, someone has to do it. It’s been almost two years without an acting boss. I’ve only had a handful of 1-on-1s in that time and my team has received little to no guidance. Our team regrouped on our own and paved our own path. Essentially to keep up with our demanding schedule, we just moved on … boss-less.

Well, I just talked to a coworker in another department. Evidently my boss plans on returning back to the office soon. It sounds like he is meeting with various people to say sorry and then he plans on coming back in. I’m at a loss for words. I want to be kind. I’m glad to have him back, and I don’t know what all happened over the last two years. But at the same time, I’m annoyed. I wound up dealing with things way above my job title simply because I was the only one around to take it on and make the decisions. My team has worked long hours. It’s been stressful here in the office. We’re behind schedule, losing people like crazy, and the entire project is in chaos (though the cause is out of our control). He hasn’t seen any of that. There was no communication, no broad explanation of why he was gone or even that he couldn’t work. He just disappeared without saying anything. For TWO YEARS!

What do I say when he comes back and wants to have a 1-on-1? I’m not a confrontational person and 1-on-1s already stress me out. I know this is going to be awkward and I’m not prepared at all.

I would be so interested to get a letter from your boss about what’s been going on with him and how he plans to manage this!

To be clear, there are lots of sympathetic reasons he might have fallen underwater with … well, everything. Childcare, illness, sick relatives, mental health — who knows what. He has a lot of company in that boat these past two years if so.

But going nearly completely incommunicado with your team for two full years and leaving the rest of you to fend for yourselves without the authority he was the only one empowered to offer … without even explaining what he was doing or what he would need, and without deputizing someone else to act in his absence … it’s obviously not okay. In easing his own stress and burdens, he dramatically increased the stress and burdens on the rest of you. And of course, if he weren’t the boss, this presumably would have gone very differently for him.

When you meet with him after his return, it’s okay to be skeptical. That doesn’t mean you need to confront him about any of this. But you don’t need to act like everything’s fine or that not hearing from him for two years was normal; you don’t have to smooth things over. If someone is going to smooth things over, that onus is on him. Just sit back, let him take the lead, and see what he says.

But you definitely can make it clear how hard things have been! It’s not unduly aggressive or confrontational to just matter-of-factly fill him in on the difficulties you’ve had. For example: “It’s been really stressful here. We’re behind schedule on X and Y, have lost a third of the team, and have all been taking on more than we can juggle. I’m hoping you’ll be able to step in right away and do Z.” The subtext is going to be clear even if you don’t spell it out.

And since it sounds like he’s planning to apologize, know that you don’t need to respond to an that by assuring him it’s fine (as people sometimes feel obligated to do, even if they’re deeply upset). If he apologizes, you can respond, “It’s been really tough here” or “It would have helped to have had someone deputized to act in your absence” or “I want to be transparent — it’s made an already hard two years even harder” or whatever else is true and you’re comfortable saying.

At some point, you’re going to get an idea of how he plans to proceed (from his actions if nothing else). Is he just going to step right back into the role as he did it before disappearing, even though others have built expertise and credibility on a lot of what he did previously and they may be loath to step back for him? Or does he plan to let others keep some/all of the expanded roles they’ve been forced into? (And what if some people want that and some people don’t? And how will compensation be handled if people are doing more than their job descriptions?) You should be thinking about what you want in that regard — do you want to hold on to some of what you took over or are you eager to get it off your plate? Either way, that’s something you can bring up at that first meeting too, or soon afterwards. It’s fine to say, “I’ve been doing X and would like to remain the point person on it because of Y.” And it’s also fine to say, “I’ve been doing X but I’d like to transfer it back to you as soon as we can, since it’s been interfering with my ability to focus on Y and Z. Could we do a hand-off meeting later this week?”

More broadly, though, it’s okay to stay skeptical! That doesn’t mean you should undermine him or be openly insubordinate, but if you’re privately dubious and don’t trust him, that would be a very reasonable reaction. It’s on him to do the work to change that over time. See if he does.

{ 407 comments… read them below }

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Who is picturing the boss coming in all sun burned, carrying a guitar and strumming Josh Groban tunes?

      1. supertoasty*

        I am now.

        (Side note, your username is incredible, and now I have Runnin’ Down a Dream stuck in my head. Thanks a lot.)

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          now I have Runnin’ Down a Dream stuck in my head.

          It puts “Jammin’ me” into my head.

          Who is picturing the boss coming in all sun burned, carrying a guitar and strumming Josh Groban tunes?

          I was actually picturing Jimmy Buffet singing Margaritaville.

        2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          I humbly accept your gratitude…cuz with one foot in the grave, and one foot on the pedal…

        3. WorkForScraps*

          Two years with no leadership and no one thought to discuss this with the boss’ boss? Come on…

          It’s extremely likely that the boss has been in contact with their own boss, and that the boss’ boss was the one who dropped a ball here.

            1. Kahuna*

              Addendum – N/M. LW explained further downthread that her Boss is not the Big Boss. Still a weird situation…

      2. RagingADHD*

        Well, nobody who’s been trying to WFH with kids doing remote schooling, or who was dealing with a family member with severe health issues and/or very high covid risk, or who has been struggling with mental health or executive function issues of their own.

        But y’all have fun.

        1. Kella*

          While all of those situations are entirely possible, it doesn’t explain or excuse the fact that he simply dropped out of working almost entirely with no communication. No communication is a problem regardless how good the reason for the drop out was. I think this joke is alluding to his apparent inconsiderate behavior that implies he has no awareness of the impact his actions have had on his team thus far. Many people have been struggling but at the very least managed to communicate to their team or their employer that they could not maintain the same level of work.

          1. Michelle*

            There are plenty of situations though, where it would actually be a bad thing to ignore the raging problem for a while to jump on a work chat and tell everyone your personal happenings. Because of nothingness it’s possible the boss was in the hospital. Should the boss request a video feed long enough to say “Hey, I’m in the ICU, likely to be gone for a while.”

            Does the lack of communication suck? Yeah. If higher management is okay with the absence, does the boss have the duty to stop dealing with whatever personal crisis when already on an approved absence? No. The ball would be in upper management’s court and if they feel it’s not to be talked about, then that’s that.

            1. Reluctant Mezzo*

              But higher management should let the worker bees know what’s going on, and they did, they sure dropped the ball.

              I guess if the worker bees keep doing their job without the boss…does that company actually need that boss?

            2. Emmy Noether*

              Wait, there’s no need to tell everyone the reasons, but it does have to be communicated somehow by someone that the boss is officially absent.

        2. No sympathy for bosses*

          What angers me about these flippant responses is that if it was a regular coworker you all would be making all kinds of excuses and being sympathetic. But because they’re a boss there’s no grace extended. Typical of commenters here.

          1. Tobias Funke*

            Imagine that, folks who make more money and have more latitude are also subject to higher expectations! Wacky and wild!

          2. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

            I don’t think anyone thinks it would be acceptable for a non-managerial employee to completely drop off the radar and stop functioning as an employee for TWO YEARS. Regardless of whatever was occurring in their personal life, that kind of negligence is unacceptable from anyone.

          3. Green Goose*

            But if it were a coworker, they probably would have been let go by the boss. What’s frustrating for OP is the boss was basically taking a salary (higher than OPs) for two years without working and there was no accountability. OP was likely not compensated for taking on additional responsibility or even acknowledged for it.

          4. Greg*

            If it was a “regular coworker” that person would probably already be fired. The fact that the boss was able to get away with it is pretty bizarre (and an indictment of the senior management at the company)

          5. Autumnheart*

            Ain’t nobody in here ditching their job for two *years* and coming back like nothing happened. If they had been an individual contributor, they wouldn’t even have had a job to come back to after two DAYS of that. Fired for job abandonment. Where’s the sympathy for his reports, who had to cover for him with no back-up and no explanation from anyone?

          6. Anon Supervisor*

            I think any grace I would extend in this situation would be worn to nothing after 2 years of radio silence. And don’t kid yourself that this would be allowed if it was a regular coworker.

          7. LinuxSystemsGuy*

            My boss recently had a (non-COVID) health emergency. He was was out, without notice, for several weeks. Either he or his wife (I’m not clear which) let my grandboss know, myself and the other team leads were told we report to grand boss for the duration, we were empowered to handle emergencies ourselves, and to bring him in if needed.

            It was harder than a normal few weeks, but mitigated because we knew what was goin on, and had people empowered to make sure things ran smoothly. This situation seems to have had none of that. Boss or grandboss, or both, dropped the ball completely. It’s critical to realize how much a manager’s authority matters. It’s what allows work to be assigned and have those assignments stick, it’s also what allows them to argue for more resources, extensions on projects, etc.

          8. Userper Cranberries*

            Have you seen any of the letters about coworkers who are ignoring their job duties and expecting the LW to pick up the slack? Those coworkers get exactly this much slack. It’s not about the rank, it’s about forcing others to do your work without compensation.

          9. Caroline Bowman*

            Wait. No. A person at any level going AWOL for 2 solid years would get very little sympathy.

            The difference is that if they were anything under management, they’d have been fired, so the issue would never have really arisen. Senior people, leaders, are held to higher standards, that’s why they get the bigger bucks. They have more say, more sway and thus more responsibility.

            Clearly anyone can get ill or face a terrible crisis in their lives. No one is suggesting otherwise, but it’s usually clarified to the people left carrying the can for years. Importantly, this boss just sort of, did a slow fade, and now is back and ready to be in charge again, apparently.

          10. MCMonkeyBean*

            I am honestly baffled by this take. I think I’m a pretty empathetic person, but there really aren’t any circumstances under which a person can just stop doing their work for two entire years and continue collecting a paycheck without talking to anyone about it. Whether you are the CEO or an entry level employee that’s just… not something anyone could or should be able to do. You can feel bad if they are going through something in their personal life, but if they are unable to do their job for *two years* then they need to actually take leave or even quit so the company can keep the team running without them.

        3. This is a name, I guess*

          If this were a woman who shirked her duties and went incommunicado, she would not have gotten this much grace, especially if she had kids, especially in STEM.

      3. Save the Hellbender*

        yes!! I hope OP follows Alison’s very professional advice, but a part of me hopes they try to trick their boss into addressing the balloon production and fire in the warehouse like Jim and Dwight did to Andy

    2. Sal*

      Me too. Wonder what other managers thought about this or even upper management and HR, presuming they have one? Very strange and stressful for everyone concerned.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        That was the question I kept asking myself while I was reading – what did other managers at his level and above know about what was happening for the past two years? I mean, he apparently got paid, so was he still talking to management and taking credit for work you all did without him?

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          Yes, my god, I wish OP had written in to ask for advice (and then step two, taken that advice) after the first six months of this. I’m totally sympathetic to people whose careers got torpedoed by the pandemic, but OP should not have shouldered this and carried on, accepting the responsibilities of leadership without the pay or title to show for it. If your company isn’t going to reward you, the best thing to do is make them “feel the pain” of this missing role, not bury it, because companies will exploit you if they can.

          1. we don't talk about wakeen*

            This was my first thought too – unless he’s the sole owner and CEO, how did no one above him notice? Did OP and coworkers not say anything to upper management this whole time?

            1. LW*

              My grand boss was well aware of the situation. A couple meetings were held to see what we could do to get my boss back in the office. I’m not sure what happened between my boss and my grand boss. Eventually we had done everything we could and it was no longer in our hands.

              1. Very Social*

                A “couple” meetings to “see what [you] could do”? And then nothing? WOW, upper management really dropped the ball here.

                1. Ace in the Hole*

                  We don’t actually know what the situation is behind the scenes. It’s entirely possible grandboss knows something we (and LW) don’t. Perhaps Boss has been on an extended leave of absence, or a temporary reassignment to different duties that could be done from home, or reduced hours…. we really have no idea.

                  The bizarre part to me is the apparent total lack of communication from upper management to LW’s team about the situation.

          2. LW*

            I wish I had known about ask a manager at that time! I just came across this site a few months ago. I kept trying to phrase what I wanted to ask but then it was too late. My husband has constantly told me how much I’m missing by not having a manager.

        2. TiredMama*

          This. Did he manage to get paid all this time? Did no one else notice he was MIA? Did the team not say something? This does not sound like a small business, so presumably their manager would have to sign-off on time-off requests and performance reviews and payroll/budgets, right?

          1. LW*

            We discussed with multiple people. He still signed off on things that impacted us, especially personally. He signed off on my maternity leave and I got a promotion while he was out. He just constantly missed meetings, reports were signed off by another member of the team, etc.

            1. Accountant*

              So, not actually AWOL. Maybe reduced capacity/reduced schedule. Something often granted to employees (bosses and “normies” alike) when they have some kind of family or health situation they have to attend to, which wouldn’t really be your business.

              1. ceiswyn*

                It wouldn’t be the LW’s business what the exact reason was.
                It was, however, very much the LW’s business that all the rest of the boss’s duties wouldn’t be attended to, and what they should do about them. IF the boss had agreed a reduced load with their boss, then it was on their boss to consider how to handle it and communicate that with the team. Which they didn’t.

              2. Caroline Bowman*

                Fine then, not AWOL for the bit where Boss kept all the power safely, but AWOL for the hard work bit where stuff needed to get done that required icky work.

                Got it.

        3. LW*

          The phrase “dead to me” was used by another manager in the group. I think he took over a lot of my bosses duties, including answering any questions that we had. It sounds like my boss has made up with another of his peers since I wrote this letter. Not sure about the manager that disowned him.

          1. JSPA*

            That’s making “trouble with the law” more likely. People don’t “dead to me” someone for having a medical issue.

          2. Loulou*

            So you did have a manager step in to fulfill your boss’s duties while he was gone? That’s completely different from the scenario I (and it seems like many others) was imagining.

            1. LW*

              Mmm.. Not really. There is another at my boss’s level who does not have direct reports (doesn’t want them) who is considered a SME that we would ask project related question. No one that held 1:1s, communicated across the group, or acted as a senior manager with my manager gone.
              I want to make sure I’m not sounding defensive here though – yes there was someone to answer our questions but no one to take over as acting manager.

              1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                So would it be fair to say that manager vanished on about 90% of his work responsibilities?

                It almost sounds like it was a bit of a boiling frog situation for the other managers (so they just kept on keeping on till they abruptly couldn’t keep going on), but his reports were for the most part unfortunately left to fend for themselves?

        4. Green Goose*

          I wonder if the lab is the bosses lab so maybe there is no one above the boss to report the issue to or a manger at the bosses same level.

        5. GreenDoor*

          This was my first question. Even if the boss was on a legitimate FMLA leave or a sabbatical or something, why wouldn’t his superiors or HR have advised the team that their boss would be out for the foreseeable future? Someone high up has to sign off on those things. Yet, even if it wasn’t a legitimate leave and he truly was AWOL, again, doesn’t he have to give reports and turn things into this superiors? Respond to their calls and emails? How can you be AWOL for two years and no one notices? I’m so confused…

          That said, he IS the manager and managers should be advised of any problems, bottle-necks, or other concerns that are creating workplace problems. Lay it on him, I say. And the more you can attribute it to “because we had no guidance from management these last two years” the better.

      2. jane's nemesis*

        This is what I want to know! Where’s the OP’s grand-boss in all this? Did no one above them notice the absence? Was there no one they could have gone to when he wasn’t answering their emails to say “boss is not answering our emails, we need some guidance”?

        1. LW*

          We spoke with multiple people, including grand boss. The common response was “I’m working on it. What can I do in the mean time to help?” What I don’t know at all was what my boss and grand boss’s conversations looked like

          1. EventPlannerGal*

            Okay so I was initially VERY confused about how this situation could possibly have occurred but your comments are clearing things up a bit. OP, I think your letter made this sound a lot worse than it now seems to have been – it really sounded like your boss had literally gone AWOL and left your team completely high and dry with no support from anyone, which is obviously going to be tricky to approach. But if your grandboss knew and was supportive of your team, other managers were standing in for him, he was still signing off on important items and so on, then that’s a really different situation! You obviously weren’t as supported/informed as you would have liked but that’s a totally different conversation than “he disappeared without a trace for two years”.

          2. Princesss Sparklepony*

            I’m wondering if everyone else in the department can ask for this same accommodation… If it’s ok for the boss, why not everyone take two years off putting in maybe an hour of work a week on full salary…

            It seems really bizarre. I’m guessing boss had some kind of mental health or substance abuse breakdown. Seems like there needs to be more information given to the rest of the department that yet doesn’t break confidentiality issues. Otherwise, I can see the rest of the department being very unhappy with this boss when they come back and try to start being boss again.

      3. Evelyn Carnahan*

        I had a boss who was pretty MIA a lot of the time. She was hired after a very long search, so unlike OP’s boss she didn’t have a history of good work to support her. She would disappear for entire days, not show up to meetings that she had called, and would fall asleep in almost every meeting she did show up to. Her direct reports (including me) just picked up the slack in the department, and the other middle managers picked up some slack but mostly just stopped working with our department. Her bosses knew about this — they witnessed it! But they just ignored it for about a year and a half. I wonder if OP’s boss was doing the bare minimum for his job, so the people above him let it go.

        There also could be a reason that he was MIA as a supervisor that other managers and those above him know about, but wasn’t shared with his department. That’s another issue but not really his fault.

        1. Mockingjay*

          “There also could be a reason that he was MIA as a supervisor that other managers and those above him know about, but wasn’t shared with his department. ”

          I suspect this. But the real issue is that management didn’t step in to assist the team. I don’t need to know why my supervisor is unavailable. What I do need to know is how to proceed on the project: who do I answer to in lieu of boss, who signs off completion, who handles X that the boss used to…

          1. LW*

            This was a lot of our issue. I’ve even told people “I don’t need to know WHY he’s gone. I just need to know that he’s gone so that I’m not waiting on replies and I can loop other people into important meetings.” I’m trying to be generous. I don’t want to focus on the fact that he was out. Our frustration was that he just left without telling anyone. And like someone else said, he could have told someone and it wasn’t passed down to us. Though toward the end of his time out, our grand boss sent out an email that my boss would be on extended leave for about a month and to contact him (our grand boss) if we needed anything. That makes me think my grand boss would have been at least slightly forthcoming if my boss had said anything.

            1. Anon Supervisor*

              Hell, at this point, I would definitely want to know why he was gone for so long. But I’m nosey and have an over-inflated sense of “that’s not fair, you need to explain yourself.”

            2. Reluctant Mezzo*

              Your company should consider themselves lucky you guys didn’t just boogie on out. (I know, all that addiction to eating and rent paying).

            3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Strong agree. I have a coworker on intermittent FLMA at the moment, I don’t need to know why Sam is out, I just need to know if he’s here or not today. Because if Sam’s not in today then things that normally escalate to Sam go to Bridgette in his absence.

              To me the seeming lack of direction with workflow issues was the major problem here – and that wasn’t anything that LW or her coworkers could have solved, that was on grandboss who for whatever reason dropped the ball.

      4. LW*

        No idea if the executive team or HR knew. Our EM has a history of being clueless about what is going on at the lower lever. It’s a hot topic right now, don’t even get me started.. Our HR team is all knew within the last year.

        1. Caroline Bowman*

          Please follow up! Even reading through your clarifying comments, I think what happened is completely bananas and incredibly unfair. Just because you managed to stagger on, desperately fire-fighting, with occasional pats on the head by sundry other management, the whole thing is just not okay.

          And now I need – yes, need – to know what the situation was and so much more!

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Right?! After two years, I’m surprised someone in the back of the room wearing a hoodie doesn’t stand up and say, “He doesn’t even go here!”

        1. Journalist Wife*

          The evil and unsympathetic part of my brain just went straight here:

          “My best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night. I guess it’s pretty serious. “

    3. LW*

      Hi! Letter writer here! So my boss actually came back last week!
      He started with a 1:1 call with everyone on the team to apologize before giving us time to just talk (vent, rant, whatever you want to call it). We talked about what wasn’t working, what went bad, what we needed help with, where we needed to move on from here. I’m hoping that I covered everything that I should have but I know that I can still bring it up if I need to.
      Then he showed up in the office. The first time that I saw him was late on a Friday afternoon. He seemed surprised that I was still in. He’s been in a few times since then (our company has a pretty good hybrid option). To be honest its been a little… awkward. The first day he was back in our lab it felt weird going from no boss at all to having on on campus to watch you work. I’m getting more used to it though.
      So far everyone has been amicable. It’s just a little strange seeing someone after you don’t know where they are for so long. It’s probably been harder for him than any of us. He’s been out so long and he’s trying to catch back up on everything he’s missed. There has only been one comment about not being able to question someone’s decision (a peer of my boss) because “he owes him.”
      Not overly juicy, but there’s always more to come.

      1. ThatGirl*

        OK but did he say ANYTHING about where he’d been for so long?? Not that we need every detail, but …

        1. LW*

          Nope. No detail. He’s always been private with his home life, so there may be something there. But otherwise, I have no detail for you.

      2. Hanani*

        Ah, do you work in academia, LW? If so, I can totally see a PI being AWOL for two years and everyone just kind of…working around it. Doesn’t make it any less absurd or terribly handled, but I’ve seen tenured PIs do that. I know one who has been dealing with some rough health issues and has been functionally AWOL for several years as a result. Slightly more communication, though.

          1. Former Usher*

            I know we’re not supposed to guess the employers of the letter writers, but wow this sounds kind of familiar. At the time I left my old job, my manager had only spoken to me once in six months. I sometimes wonder if I should have spoken up earlier, but I didn’t know in advance what the six months would look like. It was only clear after the fact that the promises of 1:1s and better communication weren’t going to be kept.

          2. Hanani*

            Well I’m sorry the people above you in the chain who had the power to Do Something didn’t. You deserve a raise for handling this for so long.

  1. Don't Touch My Snacks*

    I just want to know the hierarchical situation that you can not do your job for 2 years and still have a job. Are they a company owner? Is it a family-owned business? How does this work?

    1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Right! At some point, wouldn’t OP or someone on OP’s team have tried to skip up one level in the hierarchy, or go to a peer of OP’s boss?

      1. Anonys*

        Yes, this is the most confusing part to me as well!

        OP – please provide an update and please also provide some info of if/what you tried to do to address the problem with higher ups/to what extent higher ups were aware of the problem. Did noone ever go up the chain and say: “Noone on the team has received any communication from boss for xxx amount of time, despite multiple attempts via email, phone, chat. Is there something we should be aware of such as him being on extended sick leave. Is he still working at the company?”

        I feel like the company cannot be particularly big – for example in my company the SAP system requires managers to submit performance reviews and part of our annual bonus is based on that so if my manager didnt log in to the system at all to do so, someone from HR would try to figure out what was going on (also there is a million points where it would be noticed by the higher ups/the Board if my boss wasnt working).

        But also, if its a small company shouldnt it be even more noticable if someone is completely incommunicado? The only way this kind of makes sense to me is if the boss was still working on some individual contributor things and communicating with his higher ups but just completely ignoring his team but that also seems so improbable.

        1. Cait*

          Yes! Unless the boss is also the owner, I’d like to know why no one above him said, “I wonder why Jurgen won’t answer calls/emails/texts and is refusing to work at all? Oh well! We’ll just keep paying him until he decides to return!”. Of course this might not be the case but, if the higher-ups were aware, why the heck didn’t they do anything to help the poor OP & team?!

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            I did an HR training where we had to write disciplinary paperwork for an employee who disappeared for two hours. I can’t imagine a company that would let it go on for two years!

            1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

              I’m with you here, (although, honestly, that sounds draconian. did they think maybe the person was ill before going punitive?) but to my story…
              My company has a business continuity plan that we test quarterly. Phone trees, alternative locations, accessing backed up files in cloud storage. So if someone isn’t there, we have a document that illustrates who to go to/who steps in.
              Yes, I’ve been here a million years, so when my boss takes a sick day/vacation people will come to me with “I need this now. Can you handle it?”
              I do what I can. Nobody expects me (or anyone) to run the place.
              So did nobody get reviews or raises for two years? Bonuses? What if you had any other issues, like FMLA? Glad nobody had a baby and had to figure out leave.

              1. IrishMN*

                LW says people are leaving, so I am also wondering how they put in their notice. Did LW handle that too? Have none of the positions been filled? So bizarre.

              2. LW*

                I actually went on maternity leave during this period and got a promotion! He communicated when the need was there. Our PTO was always approved. Our yearly review even went through.

                1. AD*

                  I think it would be interesting to see what your organization’s senior leaders or managers thought about this. Were they aware of the situation? Did you or others reach out with your questions or concerns? Is there an HR that you or your team could turn to?

            2. Rachel in NYC*

              2 hours? with WFH, I can easily go 2 days with no actual communication with anyone in my office.

              just me and my computer.

              1. Ace in the Hole*

                And in contrast, at my work if someone disappeared for more than 30 minutes with no communication we’d be doing a full scale search of the facility. Including assistance from the fire department. Given the hazards of our job, it’s reasonable to assume someone who suddenly goes silent for longer than a normal lunch break may be trapped/injured/unconscious/dead.

            3. ONFM*

              There was a highly publicized case in my general area where a municipal worker (locally administered, state funded program) was suspended from work for cause and sent home on paid administrative leave, where she remained (and was paid) for twelve years without ever returning to work. What a world we live in.

              1. Gary Patterson's Cat*

                OMG! So what, their boss just forgot about her? Did she have to pay back 12 years of salary? Because honestly, that was on them to terminate, not her.

              2. Zephy*

                Don’t doxx yourself or anything but like…how??

                Did they send her home at 4 PM on a Friday and whoever was supposed to follow up just…never did that thing? Did the employee just decide to ride that wave as long as she could, since it was paid after all? I think, even if I were suspended for cause, I would at least like…text my boss after a week, two at most, to see what’s up or just tender my resignation.

                1. doreen*

                  Most people wouldn’t resign if they were on paid administrative leave. It’s not uncommon for government workers in my city/state to be on paid administrative leave for a long time (although I’ve never seen anything close to 12 years). The reason is that union contracts often limit unpaid suspensions prior to a hearing to 30 days – so if the investigation/hearing won’t be competed within 30 days, it’s paid administrative leave until the hearing. It’s not unheard of for someone to be on paid administrative leave for a year or more if an actual crime is being investigated because you typically wouldn’t want the disciplinary hearing to happen before the criminal trial.

              3. Irish girl*

                That happens in other places as well. NYC has a big problem with that about10 years back where they were having teachers report to a place every day to get paid while being suspended from teaching pending an investigation. They had an average of 2-3 years waiting for an outcome.

                1. Adultiest Adult*

                  I remember reading that article. It was like perpetual study hall in an old school building that was no longer in use, complete with the desks. I remember thinking that it was some perverse kind of dedication to want to show up to that day after day for years, even with pay. But the union contracts stipulated that they had to be paid until the investigation was completed and they had to put them somewhere.

                2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                  Ah, in the series “the Affair” the guy gets caught kissing a colleague and ends up having to do this. He just had to turn up and sit quiet in a classroom all day. Most of the others were reading huge tomes (think War and Peace).
                  So it’s an actual thing, not just someone’s imagination, as I thought.

              4. Libby2*

                Oh yeah, I remember that situation. She definitely should have been fired instead of sent home. I always figured she had dirt on someone because her boss filled out her time sheets every two weeks, gave her a raise every year, and even wrote her name on the office’s birthday and Christmas cards.

                The gravy train only derailed when the organization got a new ED. She saw a name on payroll she didn’t recognize and did some digging. By the end of the investigation, five people in upper management were fired (and so was the AWOL employee).

        2. Trawna*

          I know! How did no one on this team go to their manager’s manager? In my field it would take, maybe, a day. Mostly out of concern, but partly out of guy needs to earn his salary, thank you very much!

      2. Starbuck*

        Yeha, there’s no mention at all of this so I’m really curious as well. What does boss’s boss know???

      3. DG*

        That was my first thought too. It feels like more anger should be directed towards the company or the next level up in the hierarchy that let this go on unchecked. It’s OK to be annoyed and skeptical of the boss, but people die/quit/have health issues/take leaves of absence/do other things that leave their direct reports in a bind all the time, and the onus is on the employer to keep things running smoothly.

      4. Jillian*

        I’m wondering if there was an actual medical issue that the higher ups were aware of all along – his, a child’s, parents, spouse. (Like child undergoing treatments and he is working only periodically). They did not notify his direct reports, and he assumed they did. He’s sorry he was gone, but thinks everyone knows why and he assumed the higher ups were dealing with his team in his absence.

    2. supertoasty*

      My mind immediately went to Cooper from Eurotrip (the secondary character who had a law firm internship and called in from Europe to his boss occasionally pretending to look for a file in the basement)

      1. KaciHall*

        Even Cooper answered the phone and then bsed his way through the issues. Sounds like this boss wasn’t even doing that.

      2. Princesss Sparklepony*

        Just coming by to say – I love that movie! Worst twins ever! Scotty doesn’t know! The safe word! Lucy Lawless cameo. Brad Pitt cameo! It’s got it all.

    3. Witch*

      Even a family owned business needs leadership to make decisions. I’m trying to think of some way you can work just… Without a manager! How do you even keep projects moving for two years without any oversight?

      1. quill*

        TBH the fact that they’re a lab is probably the primary logistical reason this happens. If you are, say, QC and the products and ingredients stay the same (though for two years? Yikes on bikes for the company overall) you can keep doing lab work and paperwork on the samples someone else sends you for quite some time before you run into something that is impossible to resolve without someone higher up the food chain.

      2. Your Local Password Resetter*

        As far as I can tell the team just took over his workload when it started blocking the projects. OP has more or less been acting manager, just with a very jury-rigged setup.

      3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        At my previous job, it worked so much better when the boss wasn’t around! All he did was flap about and produce hot air. Luckily he didn’t arrive until about 11am, so we got all our hard thinking work done first thing while it was nice and calm.
        I suppose he signed off on stuff like the accounts, but honestly, there was an accountant and a secretary and four other employees, we all knew our jobs inside out. The only thing he did well was sales, but at one point he wasn’t even doing that. We had enough work because clients kept coming back, because we were working well, but of course you can lose clients without doing anything wrong sometimes, if they get bought out by someone else or go bankrupt for example.

    4. idwtpaun*

      That’s what I want to know! I didn’t know disappearing for two years while still drawing my salary was an option. And then I get to just waltz back in and still have a job? Where do I sign up for that kind of freedom!

      1. supertoasty*

        > And then I get to just waltz back in and still have a job? Where do I sign up for that kind of freedom!

        Have you tried being a mediocre white guy? I hear that helps.

        1. Anon for This*

          It may be helpful for some things, but not completely disappearing with zero communication. (Although, we have no way of knowing if he was in communication with higher-ups. If he was, then this point may apply.)

        2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          I disagree, ONLY because the key to being a successful mediocre employee is all about looking the part/creating an impression. You smile, you charm, you agree with people, you are at your desk all day. People look for you…boom. At your desk. Not doing a damn thing…but there you are!

          1. supertoasty*

            That’s why when people ask me for my work inspiration I point to the Broadway musical “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” – side note, they should REALLY revive that show. It needs some tuning and I think would be hilarious with the current work trends.

            1. Princesss Sparklepony*

              Good thing they don’t ask me my work inspiration. It’s Bartleby the Scrivener. I don’t think that is going to impress anyone!

        3. Your Local Password Resetter*

          It certainly helps, but even then you need to really charm your incompetent bosses to get away with this.

          I’m assuming something happened in his personal life, he cleared it with his bosses, and then nobody told the team. Maybe they all assumed the others would do it?

        1. Venus*

          This. It is very possible that he was on sick leave, or leave without pay. The bigger problem is that the company lost a manager and that wasn’t addressed by anyone. Why did no one explain this to boss’s boss, and if they did then why wasn’t anything done.

          1. Kella*

            This seems like the most logical explanation but then that doesn’t explain why OP heard that the boss is going to return and apologize. Apologize for what? If he was just on medical leave why would he have something to apologize for?

        2. Person from the Resume*

          That seems unlikely since no one above him stepped in to manage the team or even tell them that the boss was on a leave of absence.

        3. All the words*

          It just isn’t credible that a manager goes out on a legitimate leave of absence and nobody informs their staff.

          OP I’m sorry I don’t have helpful advice. My own respect or trust for this organization’s management would be beyond repair. I’d be tasting blood from having to bite my tongue so much.

          1. Loulou*

            Unfortunately, I do find it credible. How many letters have we read here about organizations completely mismanaging something even as basic as informing staff of leadership changes? There’s a department in my workplace where staff have essentially been managing themselves for like two years and it’s a mess. It seems equally plausible to me that the boss was out on medical leave and the company did not assign a clear replacement OR that the boss actually did zero work while he was supposed to be working.

              1. Amethystmoon*

                At the company where I work, someone was in the hospital for a week — in the actual hospital, and it was questioned. Of course, she was not a manager.

              2. SnowyRose*

                This blanket statement isn’t true. I have two coworkers that I’m aware of that were out on medical leave for at least a couple of years. Neither were high-level or even management. I know not every company would do the same, but it’s certainly possible here and has been handled very poorly.

                1. doreen*

                  Same here – although you’re unlikely to get paid for two years at my former job, people were absolutely on medical leave for a year or two. In fact at one point the limitation was that you would be terminated 365 days after the last day you worked – and people returned for a day or two and the clock restarted.

              3. Changing Career Path, cont.*

                Companies can decide to do this, but they are not legally required to give someone 2 years LOA.

                1. Journalist Wife*

                  Depending on where they are in the U.S., and minutiae of their field’s business practices, Manager could’ve had to blow through all his saved up sick time, possible extended sick pay or GEICO-like arrangement, AND vacation weeks before he could file for non-permanent Disability Leave. I work in academia at a state-run institution, and have had to process that paperwork for someone. And then she got to return a couple of years later after she had recovered…though part of that is institutional, part of it is broader civil service rulings, part of it is union-coverage stuff, and who knows what else. But yes–while I’m in the public rather than private sector, I live smack dab in the middle of the U.S. and have seen it play out that way with temporary Disability Leave while someone was battling a long-term medical condition.

                  And it’s possible that HR or management or legal or whoever else involved was less than helpful/direct/knowledgable/cooperative at the onset of it all to know how to help steer him through all those roadblocks, and he might’ve tried (or even been begged to try by someone not wanting to deal with all that) to first just see how long he could hang on before having to start a whole process like that, or who knows what else. The only thing that jumps out at me from this perspective, though, is why GrandBoss or whoever sent out the notice about him taking a month LOA after he’d already been a veritable ghost for two years. Unless it was just to put him back on people’s radars when the upper echelon knew he was soon-to-be reintegrated into the team in more of a pre-pandemic work-style situation and back in action.

            1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

              There may have been misunderstandings about the rules surrounding FMLA. “We can’t discuss someone’s FMLA with other employees.” turned it into “we don’t talk about people who are on leave. At all.”
              (And now I have We Don’t Talk About Bruno in my head. To supertoasty, who thanked me for putting Tom Petty in their head, I assure you, karma got me.)

              1. Lanlan*

                My friend, I have had We Don’t Talk About Bruno in my head for long enough that I’ve figured out the French for it scans (“Nous ne parlons de Bruno, non, non, non!”)

                1. Lanlan*

                  …note that I never said I was *fluent*.

                  “Nous ne parlons pas de Bruno” definitely does not scan.

        4. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I think that would make the story even weirder. If a manager went on a leave of absence for a period of *multiple years* and nobody bothered to tell that person’s staff, that would be one of the wilder situations we’ve seen on this site, and we’ve seen MANY WILD THINGS.

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      Alison said she would be interested in hearing from the boss; I’d be interested in hearing from one level up. One of your reports stops coming to meetings and leaves the lab to become self-directing for two years (like, I could see a couple of months in certain rare circumstances) and you’re just… fine with that?

      1. Velocipastor*

        We’re in a similar situation at my job, thought it hasn’t been going on nearly as long, and I can tell you our upper management is already fed-up. The only thing I can think is that maybe Absentee Manager never canceled meetings with the upper levels?

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          This is what I’m wondering – if he kept in touch with same level and upper level managers, and just went awol on the team. Still have to wonder how the other managers didn’t notice what was going on though.

          1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

            My boss gets emails from her boss a month before annual reviews are due. They are staggered by hire date, so even if my boss had a plan to disappear, she couldn’t just whirl in for two weeks once and get this done. Those reviews then go to her boss, and one level up boss. Then a meeting, then signed docs go to HR.
            In other words, at my company, managers manage. What the hell does this company do?

            1. Lily Rowan*

              I recently hired someone from a different unit of my large organization, and when I asked him about how they did reviews over there, he said they just… didn’t! Didn’t do them at all!

        2. Librarian of SHIELD*

          But, like, what would he say in those meetings? He has no idea what the team is working on and never contacted anyone to pass on directives.

      2. Lab Boss*

        I’m a lab manager who did my best NOT go to AWOL, but we had similar issues with a lot of people in comparable positions to mine. The general attitude from management was that this just went to show why WFH and flex scheduling is bad, and that we should go back to normal as soon as possible. The fact that my team and a few others kept up our proper productivity was initially dismissed because “it’s not fair to let you keep being flexible when we won’t let the other teams do it” (continuing COVID spikes have delayed this plan, probably indefinitely).

        Labs tend to be extremely results and data driven, and management often rises up from the ranks and can be more focused on end results than is necessarily healthy. After seeing what I saw here it doesn’t surprise me so much that OP’s upper management just felt like whatever happens happens, the work still got done so no harm no foul.

      3. Ally McBeal*

        I also want to know why NO ONE on OP’s team went to HR about this! “We’re concerned about Boss; we understand that the circumstances might cause delays or hardships, but we haven’t heard a single word from him in three months and we’re worried about his wellbeing. Has anyone else at Company spoken with him recently?”

    6. MsClaw*

      Same question! Did anyone bring their concerns to someone higher up? How was the boss allowed to keep being an employee despite not showing up for work in person or virtually for two years?

    7. Shiara*

      I’m not saying this is remotely okay or necessarily what happened here but there are companies that are really bad about communicating about people on intermittent FMLA and just kind of act like everything is normal when someone is blatantly mostly not there, because they just find it less scary legally to say nothing. And even when the FMLA runs out if the family health situation is ongoing, the company may continue to provide flexibility and holding the position with very little communication to the affected team.

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        But there’s a difference between “very little communication” and absolutely no communication.

        “Manager is on FMLA leave indefinitely and So-and-so should step in as interim manager,” vs *crickets*

        1. mlem*

          Could be very bad upper management, though, that does happen. “Well, FMLA can be medical-related, so we can’t say anything about an approved leave at all because we wrongly think it would be a HIPAA violation, but surely the team will just reach higher up when they can’t get hold of him! Well, we haven’t heard anything, so it must be fine!”

    8. The OTHER Other*

      This was my question, how is it he still has a job after doing basically no work for 2 years? From the letter talking about “other departments” I gather he is not the owner or boss of the company, just a boss of a department. Where have his bosses been during all this? It sounds as though the problems or much wider and systemic than this AWOL boss.

      I can definitely understand why the department is losing staff; who would want to work someplace like this?

    9. turquoisecow*

      Yeah I think if my boss vanished and left me with de facto leadership I’d probably go to his boss for some direction, even if grand boss didn’t know or want to share what was happening with direct boss. “Hey, I haven’t heard from Boss lately, but I need some direction on where to go with Project X or how to deal with Client Y.” Feels like the whole workplace has kind of stalled.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        I agree with this. I’d have no problem going to my boss’ boss. Again, I’ve been here a million years, so I’d also have texted my boss, “hey, are you ok? I don’t want to bother you outside the office, but I haven’t seen you here in a week and there is nothing on the calendar. Can you let me know your schedule? Again, I hope everything is OK.”

      2. LW*

        This is pretty much what happened. We have weekly meetings with grand boss (as a team) where he would communicate what needed to happen. It helps that our project timeline has been written for about 3 years now. So we’ve known what needs to be done at a high level.

    10. I'm just here for the cats*

      Yeah I was wondering that too. And I was thinking if there is someone above OP’s boss if they were the ones that dropped the ball. Like the boss kind of took a leave of absence and someone said that they would take care of the team and then they saw that the team was taking care of themselves and figured “oh it looks like everything’s fine here. No need to let anyone know that Brad is on leave”.

    11. Person from the Resume*

      Why didn’t the LW and her coworkers talk to AWOL boss’s boss to get help and guidance. It sort of sounds like they were covering for the AWOL boss and making decisions in his place instead of sending the high level decisions up the chain of command.

      I wound up dealing with things way above my job title simply because I was the only one around to take it on and make the decisions. My team has worked long hours. It’s been stressful here in the office. We’re behind schedule, losing people like crazy, and the entire project is in chaos (though the cause is out of our control).
      Why did the LW have to do this instead of kicking it up to the AWOL boss’s boss? Why isn’t someone higher up helping out with chaos and the quitting and being behind schedule? It doesn’t make sense that higher ups don’t care about all of this and aren’t trying to fix at least some of the issues.

      This is a crazy amount of dysfunction all the way up the chain of command.

      1. Mockingjay*

        I’m trying to keep speculation to a minimum, as that is not helpful to the OP, but across the planet the last 2 years have been characterized by extreme disruption. Even well-run companies have issues these days. I can totally see why OP would just hunker down and quietly soldier on.

        Even my largely excellent company has problems (I won’t mention the government program we support – it’s a cluster). There’s a lot of inertia, deferment of decisions, losing track of goals and assignments. I’ve let stuff slide or stopped following up because I’m exhausted mentally and don’t care much anymore.

    12. RagingADHD*

      Perhaps this is the flip side of all those “I was working 2 full time jobs” stories. The twist is that they weren’t actually doing any work.

    13. Cheap Ass Rolex*

      Yes, I’m very confused as to where the part of the story is where OP and the rest of the team reached out to higher and higher management levels begging them for some kind of interim manager / help / update even. It seems like that’s the route to take after maybe two weeks of this, not two years!

      It’s possible OP just forgot to mention that of course they did that, but if not and no one explained what was happening to their grandboss, that’s if anything more bizarre than a boss being AWOL.

    14. LW*

      Hi! Letter writer here! I’m trying to answer these as fast as my fingers can type. We are actually a fairly substantial manufacturing company (~3K employees around the globe). To be honest, I don’t know how it worked. If I had to make an assumption, our grand boss was coving things up since my boss has a long history with the company. My grand boss was very aware of what was going on. The others at my boss’s level on our team were very aware of what was going on and have all but disowned him at this point. I don’t know if anyone outside of our project knew what was going on. We got a lot of questions like “I haven’t seen Bob in a while” but nothing more than that. There were a couple of us on the team that had meetings with our grand boss to say “What is going on?” We wouldn’t get much of an answer but we did get asked “What do you need?” Not sure how the logistics of keeping him paid actually worked.

      1. All Het Up About It*

        Thank you for commenting. This is WILD! I’m wishing you and your team well… And maybe your boss. I don’t know… it’s so strange!!

        Also props for you for not answering the what do you need questions with “An actual boss who’s going to work!”

      2. AD*

        Yeah, this answers some of the questions I had about your company. I think this is a situation beyond your boss simply coming back and apologizing (if that’s indeed what he plans) and more a case of your organization’s leaders being complicit and less than transparent about this whole scenario. Which doesn’t sound great, tbh.

      3. Journalist Wife*

        I’ve seen OP [LW] comment several times above this comment, trying to answer individual questions and agree that this specific comment answers the most gaping holes we’ve been using the collective imagination of the commentariat to fill in over the past few hours since this posted.

        ***Alison: Would it make sense to reference this comment of the LW’s with an html anchor up top at the start of the comments or end of the post, just to point people to it?***

      4. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        Assuming they decided to keep paying him, it was probably as simple as not changing anything: $X is direct deposited into his account, on the regular payroll schedule.

      5. I-Away 8*

        Sounds like your boss was dealing with a personal issue that his boss was privy to, but others were not. Maybe for a good reason.

        I know it’s all anonymous here, but I wonder if it’s entirely necessary or appropriate to gossip about him on the internet.

        1. Gerry Keay*

          This is an advice column; the whole point is to discuss how to respond to other people’s actions without them being present. If you think this is gossip, maybe don’t read advice columns??

          1. Really*

            While a ton of commenters prod the LW to find out what happened in this guy’s life and come back here with an update. That’s not an advice column. It’s gossip column.

      6. Daisy Gamgee*

        Thank you for replying to us! Goodness, the fact that you asked and asked and didn’t get any substantiative answers could be a letter of its own!

    15. JSPA*

      If it’s bio or chem research, the PI or PI equivalent (even at a company) has something of a fiefdom, as they are “the” person who is “the” expert (not only in the company, but potentially, in the universe) on the niche topic. The people under them, collectively, may actually be the second greatest expert on the niche topic. It used to be even more common than it is now, in academe, for the PI to be absent for a semester, academic year or even full year sabbatical.

      Long before the internet, and before inexpensive, reliable international calls, this could sometimes effectively mean that contact might be limited to a 5 minute call every few months.

      But people are left with a chain of command and a plan!

      I almost wonder if this was something highly non-optional (to the extent of jail time, involuntary commitment, court-required rehab, being investigated for espionage, witness protection, escape from abuse, recovery from a stroke, with no-one given the mandate to disclose) or work on a secret project (the people who worked on the Manhattan project were, basically, whisked away from their regular jobs) or if there was some terrible communication breakdown (the person who was supposed to be the contact person never received the email with the contact information; someone confused medical privacy with “you may not disclose anything about someone’s absence, if the cause is medical”; protecting grant money by not acknowledging the absence or incapacity of the person receiving the grant).

  2. Software Engineer*

    It’s possible that he had a particularly bad case of COVID, was in a coma for a few months, and is only now starting to emerge from the long-term effects. I’d cut him some slack, and wait until you hear his explanation.

    1. The Original K.*

      I guess, but wouldn’t someone have notified the company at some point? I’m baffled by the fact that this went on for two years with no communication.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        I’m guessing the company knew but didn’t communicate it down the food chain. This is OK, the workd doesn’t need to know the boss’s private medical information. Their mess-up was not clearly communicating what to do while he was out and not having someone step in to take his duties. Perhaps it started as, “Oh he has COVID and will be out for a week….Hospitalized, make that a month….OK in a coma, make that 6 months….OK now rehab and OT/PT, make that a year…..Oh great! He’s better”.

      1. The Original K.*

        Even if he was in a coma, the hospital wound have tried to find someone to tell, and at some point the org would have found out.

        1. londonedit*

          Exactly – surely at some point someone would have wondered where the heck the boss was and attempted to find out? People don’t just disappear from their jobs without good reason, and employers don’t usually just sit back and say ‘Oh well, guess Boss has Covid and is in a coma’ without trying to find out what’s going on. Either the boss’s bosses had no idea he was gone – which is also bizarre and ridiculous, because it seems everyone else knew, and at any rate surely the OP’s team would have flagged it up – or they knew and just didn’t bother saying anything, which is also absolutely terrible.

        2. Wombats and Tequila*

          If that’s what it took for the org to find out, then his job is by definition utterly useless.

          Count me in as one who would love to hear deets from OP as to how the higher ups never noticed or never saw fit to update his team.

    2. NeutralJanet*

      For sure, there are some sympathetic and understandable reasons why he may not have been able to work for the past two years, but if he had any kind of serious medical issue, I would hope that someone would have communicated that to his job at some point. I OP had some 1-1s during this time, then either the boss is not at the top of the hierarchy, in which case his boss should have alerted the team of his medical leave, or the boss was not actually 100% gone the whole time, in which case he presumably wasn’t in such dire straits that he couldn’t tell someone.

      1. Velocipastor*

        Yes, the fact that it was a slow taper off and that the manager still did periodic one-on-ones suggests to me that they were not the one in a long-term medical situation. I was thinking more of a caregiver situation or mental health thing.

        1. NotRealAnonForThis*

          And I can also see where a communication issue (“crap! Is this protected health information? What are we permitted to say legally?” and erring on the side of….nothing….) may be at play in the scenario you mention (caregiver, mental health thing)

          1. Littorally*

            Yeah, agreed.

            None of which is to say that no one did anything wrong here and the OP and their colleagues are wrong to be pretty ticked off, because even in the absolute best case scenario this was mishandled in a way that put a lot on the boss’ direct reports, but it is possible (and it’s good to stay open-minded to the possibility) that the boss was in a situation other than blissful shirking.

          2. anonymath*

            But I’ve done that, even as a relatively new manager/inexperienced person, and I’ve said something like “Employee has some things going on in life that we’re working through and will have to be out for x weeks. Let’s work together to cover what they’re working on so that there is little/no disruption for customers/students/whatever.” If folks ask, I say, “I’m giving them the same privacy I’d give you if you had a health or family event you needed to work through.”

          3. FisherCat*

            Sure but “Boss may be on leave for periods of time during the next x (days/weeks/months) please address any time sensitive issues to Celestina Warbleworth” does not implicate anyone’s privacy and gives an alternate source of information and/or supervision

          4. Rachel in NYC*

            yeah, but I have a coworker who had something going on so our office just sorta said that she was taking some time off work and to contact another person for anything involving her.

    3. Generic Name*

      Well sure, it’s been a traumatizing 2 years for the entire world. But the team was abandoned and left adrift and had to fend for themselves. If Boss was out sick, one would think his boss would tell the team that Boss was out on medical leave, and here’s who to go to in Boss’ absence. Sounds like that didn’t happen.

    4. BA*

      While not dismissing the fact that something like this could have happened, someone above the boss needed to step in and say something…anything…to explain what was happening and how everyone should be expected to proceed.

      1. londonedit*

        Exactly…yes, there could be some sort of medical or compassionate reason for their absence, but I can’t believe that if that’s the case, no one has communicated anything about it to the people who are meant to be working with Boss. Of course that doesn’t mean disclosing the gory details of the reason for their absence, but there should have been some sort of communication!

        1. quill*

          The absolute minimum communication should have been “Boss will be absent for some time, please refer questions about payroll / purchasing / priorities to Jeremiah Cricket.”

      2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        ^This right here. The boss didn’t mess up by not communicating his personal details. Whoever is above him/on the same level dropped the ball by not saying, “OK Lazlo is out for the time being for personal reasons. Until is return, Bat Team reports to Nadia. The Superb Owl project will be under Nador. The employee engagement activities will be managed by Colin. All administrative matters go to Guillermo”

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Agreed – the problem isn’t really that he was out – it was that there was no mapping out of the chain of command while the manager was gone. So the question in my mind becomes: was the manager just awol from his team, or was he completely awol and no other managers stepped in to help the employees with a chain of command.

        2. Joanna*

          “The employee engagement activities will be managed by Colin” OMG! That should result in the entire team quitting on the spot.

    5. Ama*

      I actually had a boss who fell into a coma unexpectedly while she was on vacation (she did recover but was ultimately out on medical leave for nine months) — someone from her family notified her boss when it became clear how serious things were and then senior staff at work communicated with me about how we were going to handle things while she was out. If it was that serious and no one from higher management was communicating with the OP and her coworkers then this company has bigger problems than just one absentee manager.

      1. Anon but Carry On*

        This comment reminded me of near the beginning of my career, when our long-time local director began showing signs of a progressive medical condition resulting in functional loss. And we’re in the US, where losing your job meant losing your healthcare. When it became apparent what was going on, luckily for us, the 4 managers underneath her collectively stepped up, divided all of her tasks between them, and kept the communication simple: “Go to X about this, Y about this, Z about this. Otherwise, you all know your jobs, carry on.” This allowed the director to come in when she could and focus on the handful of public facing tasks only she could do.

        Although I was just a low level person at the time, I remember being very proud of the fact that our office carried on and supported her for almost a year, to the point which her condition had deteriorated enough that it was obvious to upper management. I think everyone felt that she deserved that support because of her long service. But unlike the OP’s situation, the first thing they did was divide the tasks, and everyone felt supported in her absence.

    6. Apidae*

      The OP has been cutting her boss slack for two entire years while she and her team covered for him going AWOL. Don’t you think the burden of showing the boss is entitled to a little slack is on Boss at this point?

    7. Katie*

      So last year, my daughter was in hospital unexpectedly for about a month (She is all good now and we haven’t seen the inside of a hospital since May). I didn’t communicate much with my boss, but I did give her the basics. She then stepped in to make sure I was covered and told people what was up (at first generic but then more details when I gave permission).
      So either he slipped under the radar for 2 years or his boss wasn’t communicating basic details and making sure stuff was covered.

      1. NotRealAnonForThis*

        Similar situation, but a couple years back now (we’re still in annual monitoring because she did NOTHING simple during that month and I was way too familiar with 4 separate specialty departments in the hospital).

        I followed a similar communication pattern – basics then details with my boss and department mates. My department is small and was fully in the loop as I expected that they’d need to pitch in and given the size, I felt I owed them the reason why their summer was now jacked.

        I’m curious how things were communicated outside the direct department. I noticed myself that other departments had NO idea where I was, what was up, or why the he!! I’d been approved for a six week vacation (Trust me, it was so not a vacation, 0 out of 10 stars guys)

        FWIW, when a similar situation arose with a department-mate, the communication with other departments was far better that time around as they’d learned from my situation (apparently they were horrified that other-department-buggerall decided to vent his spleen at me over my being approved for a six week vacation while b!tching that he wasn’t approved and it wasn’t fair and sexist. My reaction may have started with “listen you outsize arsehole…”, in public.)

        1. Katie*

          Well if you count check-ups, we aren’t nearly as successful. I agree not real vacations in the least.
          I am not sure what was said to other areas either. However the ones I worked with knew (and offered to donate PTO if needed — it wasn’t). Everyone was really kind to me during my tribulations, and it was because of the good communication that occurred. (I would have had a similar reaction if someone had the gall to question why I was gone during a busy time.)

      2. alienor*

        I used to have a boss who was famous for planning to tell people things, and then forgetting that they hadn’t actually told them. Somewhere in their head, “I’m going to talk to [name] about [thing]” would become “I talked to [name] about [thing]” and then they’d be surprised that you didn’t know about [thing]. I guess in this case, the boss’s boss could have planned to talk to the team about where boss was, and then when work somehow kept running (despite hiccups) thought that meant they actually had had that conversation and the team was carrying out the plan. Maybe.

        1. Roy G. Biv*

          I also worked that guy. “Frank, you never told us that.” And he would reply “Well, I meant to,” which was his shorthand for “You’re an idiot for failing to read my mind.” Fun times!

    8. Kimmy Schmidt*

      I’m not sure this is helpful. We could speculate all day long on the reason for the boss’s disappearance, but there’s no evidence to support any of this in the letter.

    9. Imaginary Number*

      It sounds like it was a gradual thing. My guess is that boss started working from home, was dealing with a lot of distractions, and just slowly and inch-by-inch started doing less and less.

    10. Smithy*

      It is possible there was an extended personal or family issue that the boss reported to his boss, and then his boss never share anything with the team. And in that case, I think the fall out and OP’s anger would still be very understandable – though directed at the company for never deputizing or communicating a plan for the interim.

      In my reading of this letter, I’m inclined to guess the boss being so quiet and out of communication out of fear/worry for losing income due to a long term absence. The boss had faith in the team finding work arounds, but any more official deputizing would flag to management/HR the situation. That fear/worry might be well placed given the company culture or just a basic desire to not go on FMLA and have the reduced salary.

      While it might be a human response to the situation, when the remaining team has been placed under considerable strain to perform at a high level and allow the boss to get away with this – I don’t think that translates to immediate forgiveness. Either the boss’s managers messed up or the boss messed up. And while there might be understandable reasons, more junior staffers struggled and thus far have not be compensated or acknowledged for that struggle. (that we know of)

    11. Delphine*

      I think if this was the case, it would have gotten out with the news that the boss was thinking of returning.

    12. anonymous73*

      I have so many questions about this, but he does not deserve slack. Regardless of his situation, he left his employees hanging with no communication whatsoever for 2 YEARS. Unless he was stranded on a desert island like Tom Hanks in Castaway, there is no way he (or someone in his life) couldn’t tell SOMEONE what was happening, and at the very least let the company handle the issues with his employees.

    13. urguncle*

      Like, the boss could have been abducted by aliens or trapped in the La Brea tar pits, but it’s weird to just waltz back into the office and be like “so sorry, anyways let’s talk about your performance review.” I would be hard pressed to take any direction from someone who no-call, no-showed for two years.

    14. LW*

      Hi letter writer here! I’m definitely trying to be as accommodating as I can. My husband’s boss had long covid and was out for a few months. It was no joke for him.

  3. Stella70*

    OP, where was your grand boss during this time frame? Was anyone above your boss aware of the situation?

    1. WFH is all I Want*

      I want to know this too! Why wasn’t the situation escalated? And if it was, why did no one in leadership step in to help guide and manage the team? I have to imagine there were issues with things like signing authority and annual reviews that would signal to leadership that something was amiss. I can appreciate that OP et all kept moving forward but I would have reached out to HR at a minimum to find out what my team should be doing.

    2. Generic Name*

      That’s what I’m wondering. Honestly, I feel like something similar to this could happen at my company. We are very non-hierarchical, and in the past the company has pushed down high level responsibilities to low level people. I don’t actually have a boss right now (as does another team) and my would-be-boss’ boss is just ineffectual. He just doesn’t want to deal with problems, so he just….doesn’t. Or he’ll say, I’m sure you’ll figure it out when you go to him.

    3. Jennifer*

      That’s my biggest question. Were LW and their coworkers just trying to by nice by not snitching? If so, I think that was a bad idea and could even make them look bad in the long run. They had a duty to report this situation to someone above them long before it got this bad.

      1. Grand Admiral Thrawn Is Blue Forevermore*

        This is where I am too. I don’t want to blame the staff but I definitely feel like they took too much on themselves.

    4. HA2HA2*

      This! It feels like just as much a failure of upper management than anything else. They should have communicated down to the boss’s team what was up! Whether that was boss going on a leave of absence, or whatever.

      If the boss managed to just… vanish for two years, and nobody above noticed… man, that’s a dysfunctional organization.

      1. Sasha*


        The only way this makes any sense is if the boss had an actual reason for being out and upper management knew about it (or how has he kept his job, and why has he chosen this point to return?).

        Sounds like upper management didn’t do anything to manage the absence, even though they knew about it for years – this is their ball-drop.

    5. GreenMMsGoGoBoots*

      Same question I have! Who is he making these apologies to? Is he the owner of the company and if that’s the case why didn’t any mid-level managers discuss this in the past 2 years?

      1. Sasha*

        I’ve known people apologise for being off sick. I’m sure I’ve apologised myself for going off sick when I knew it inconvenienced my colleagues. Pretty much everyone apologises for getting covid and having to self-isolate in my workplace. That part makes perfect sense to me.

    6. Sommersolveig7*

      it seems like a whole bunch of this story is missing–higher ups in the company had to be aware and chose not to cascade the information

    7. RabidChild*

      I’m thinking the same thing. Could it be the boss has legitimately been on leave and Grand Boss (and HR?) neglected to inform OP’s department? Seems far-fetched but I’m dying to know.

    8. Kayla*

      Hi letter writer here! Grand boss was actually very aware of the situation that was going on. He all but stepped into the management roll for us. There were multiple issues going on at that level. My grand boss’s work load is insane so it felt like he didn’t have time to address the issue. Add into that fact that there have been previous family issues with my boss and my boss has been with the company 15-20 years. My grand boss did step in very late in the game (like Nov. 2021 late) to say “something needs to change.” So to answer the question, my grand boss was aware but I don’t know if anyone else outside my team was.

      1. Sasha*

        I mean, does it not seem more likely that your boss was off for a legit reason and your grand boss just handled it really badly? That fits better with the known facts than “boss chose not to do any work for two years and nobody made him”.

    9. Just stoppin' by to chat*

      That was my question as well. Did the LW (or anyone from the team) escalate to their skip level? I could see a manager not be able to get a hold of a direct report, and potentially ask their direct’s own directs or something. OR maybe the missing boss was doing just enough to manage up, but not communicating with their actual team. What a dysfunctional situation!

  4. The Original K.*

    I have so many questions. The employer just allowed this? Was there no one above the boss to appeal to?

      1. The Original K.*

        The organization is big enough that there is more than one department and apparently the boss told … somebody … that he was planning to return, so I am so confused that no one (a peer on the boss’s level, the boss’s boss, HR) did or said anything.

    1. NotRealAnonForThis*


      My questions are along the lines of “so was this a poorly executed and handled leave of absence where the boss did what he was supposed to do with notifications, and someone above dropped the ball with assigning his duties to someone instead of letting it just happen generically?” Yes, I’ve seen that scenario play out.

    2. FG*

      So many questions. Regardless of his situation – there could be many legit reasons for being MIA – where the hell is HIS management? Were they blissfully unaware (and how does that happen?) Why did no one above him contact the team and have a peer or grandboss step in? It’s not just that HE abandoned the team, but everyone at his level & higher abandoned the team. I can understand a combination of not wanting to squeal + being nonconfrontational meant that the team just got used to the new normal. But jeez louise. It’s not the manager that’s the real problem here – it’s the entire organization.
      In addition to saying things like “it’s been hard” I would DEFINITELY be asking why management didn’t step up. I don’t think I’d feel I had a right to know what was up with him, but Ice definitely feel justified in an explanation about the business side.
      Finally … if people were taking on mgmt duties without explanation or compensation … I’d have a BIG problem with that.

    3. Sylvan*

      +1?! If nobody above LW’s boss was aware of this, is the boss now expecting his employees to cover his ass for him?

      1. Grand Admiral Thrawn Is Blue Forevermore*

        I doubt the boss is going to handle this well. He is likely to provide a half hearted apology and want to move on as quickly as possible for the sake of his pride and job standing. So I hope staff isn’t expecting much from him in the way of raises or bonuses, since he would have to explain it all to justify things like that. If he was willing to leave them in this unguided mess, he is also willing to throw them under the bus. As quietly as possible.

    4. Raboot*

      And how did no one above MIA Boss ever say anything about the fact that he wasn’t showing up to any meetings or answering emails? Like did they just… not care? Start talking to OP’s team directly? Not talk to OP’s team at all? Did they know he was on leave and actively refuse to communicate that to the team or make plans? Colossal failure by MIA Manager and also by everyone above them.

        1. LW*

          I think we all got promoted about 6 months ago. So there’s at least been some minor form of compensation.

  5. supertoasty*

    Allison is pretty spot on here, I think. The fact that he’s at least made apparent to… somebody?… that the purpose of his return is first and foremost an apology is a marginally good sign (if it’s a green flag, it’s one of those little green flags that lawn care specialists put in people’s yards), and I would hope that the apology is both substantive and contains some promise of doing better now that he’s coming back – or, if he’s not, at least some roadmap of what to do if he’s leaving for good.

    But yeah, ghosting for two years is gonna sting, and I don’t think he should expect absolution for doing the bare minimum of coming back to apologize. Wait it out to see if he lives up to his words before defrosting the skepticism.

    1. Wendy*

      re: the apology… DON’T say it’s okay. It’s not. It hasn’t been, and it won’t be, and it’s not your job to make him feel better when he was the one who dropped the ball in the first place. This would be an excellent time for something like

      “Thanks for that, Boss. I really appreciate the acknowledgement that you understand this has been harder than it needed to be. Now that you’re back, can we count on you doing X again, or should Joyce plan to keep doing it for the next few months?”

      1. Sylvan*

        I mean, assuming the LW gets an apology, which they might not. They just got two years of nothing. But if they do, this is a good time to respond to an apology with thanks instead of reassuring the guy.

      2. Smuckahs*

        As someone who has to actively fight the urge to respond to any and all apologies with “it’s ok” I find it easiest to go with “thank you for apologizing.” It doesn’t let them off the hook, but it closes the loop.

      3. supertoasty*

        Yes, exactly this. That’s why I said that if he apologizes, see what his next steps are before allowing yourself to accept him back, since the apology is as good as moot if it’s not followed up with concrete positive change.

    2. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      I mean, it’s possible there is a very logical explanation for all of this. But it’s definitely NOT OK so don’t say it is.
      Even of boss had very good reasons to be out for 2 years and incommunicado, the company has issues with its management for not dealing with something like this properly. And no apology can fix that.

  6. Dust Bunny*

    I have to think that forcing his underlings to make decisions that he should have been making also potentially endangered their jobs, if it’s an organization where they could get in trouble for overstepping.

    So . . . he might have an explanation but it had better be a really good one.

    1. Steve*

      Yes, I wondered this. Although at some point, I think many of these grievances aren’t his fault but are the fault of the grandboss/organization. Obviously if he’s the top & there’s no one else, that’s him. But if he was out sick for any length of time (I’d say more than a week or two), the higher ups should have defined & communicated a delegation plan for actions in his absence. I understand that often an organization can’t say *why* someone is going to be out, but they should certainly say who to talk to in the interim, and ideally a rough idea when the absentee is expected to return.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        I mean, it definitely is the fault/responsibility if grandbosses at that point, but if they weren’t aware of how AWOL boss was they’re also the ones likely to crack down on the LW and her colleagues.

    2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      The plot twist would be if he comes back, finds out what’s been going on in his absence (or big boss does, if they weren’t aware), takes OP and team to task for “insubordination” in making decisions that weren’t theirs to make… I could see this happening in an attempt to deflect.

    1. HS Teacher*

      My first question is: Are they hiring? Imagine having a job you NEVER have to go to or answer to!!! Considering what the last couple of years have been like for most of us who have continued working, it sounds like a dream come true to me.

  7. undertheradar*

    I need more information! Where was your grand-boss during all of this? What is the HR structure like? And please, do give us an update, OP!

    1. LW*

      Grand boss was aware of the whole thing. I’m not sure what his role was. He could have been actively trying to work on the situation, looking the other way, or even just too busy to take care of it. Our HR is a bit of a joke. They have no idea what is going on, at least in our eyes. Most of them are relatively new as well. To give you an idea, they didn’t realize they should be recruiting for all the jobs we have open.

  8. ZSD*

    Please send us an update, OP! Along with an explanation of whether there’s anyone above him in the hierarchy, and if so, whether they noticed his absence.

  9. HowDidIGetHere*

    I wonder how or why OP didn’t (couldn’t?) escalate this situation after about one month of no responses from boss?

    1. Anononon*

      Yeah. I hate to say this, because I get things become boiling frog situations, but I’m just bewildered as to why no one raised this higher, and it’s hard to feel completely sympathetic if that’s actually the case.

    2. RagingADHD*

      If there was anything that involved signing authority, budgeting, hiring and taking resignations, or any kind of business function that was literally above LW’s pay grade, I can’t see how they could have avoided escalating this for 2 years.

      Were they forging the boss’s signature on stuff? Who was dealing with bonuses, performance reviews, exit interviews, strategy meetings with the next level up?

      If 2 years of nearly no work didn’t create any kind of procedural hard-stop in the workflow, and nobody outside the department noticed, then the boss’s position could simply be eliminated because he’s totally unnecessary.

  10. NeutralJanet*

    I’m curious that OP had a few 1-1s during this two year period—if the boss was out, were the 1-1s with his boss?

    1. supertoasty*

      The one-on-ones were with a mirror that had the boss’ face taped on it.

      Or it was like how people make Vines/Tik Toks, by putting a towel or something on their head when they’re acting like someone else.

    2. hbc*

      If I’m interpreting correctly, it sounds like Boss was about 97% absent as far as his employees were concerned, which is pretty darn close to 100% for being useful, but makes a huge difference in whether anyone goes above to say “Uh, did he die or something?”, and leaves room for him to look much better to peers and his own manager if he’s still submitting budget reports and whatnot.

  11. Falling Diphthong*

    It’s been stressful here in the office. We’re behind schedule, losing people like crazy, and the entire project is in chaos.

    OP, have you considered being one of those people interviewing elsewhere?

    Did anyone manage to advocate for a raise based on all the increased job duties they had to take on?

    1. WFH is all I Want*

      I second this. I would be job hunting. This is not normal and I would use the experience to get a better salary with a (hopefully) better run company.

      Two years…I just can’t fathom not being able to get in contact with my boss or have them do their job for that period of time AND have no one else step in to tell the team how to move forward in the interim.

      1. The OTHER Other*

        Yes, just about the only pluses here are the opportunity to gain new skills/show your accomplishments with taking on new responsibilities, and the flexibility to take time off to interview.

    2. NotRealAnonForThis*

      Definitely do this – this is not normal, there’s not a scenario where this should have played out in this manner and had it actually go this way.

    3. Omnivalent*

      This, this, this. OP, there has not been a better time in at least a decade to move to a new job. There is no way that a functional company allows a boss to go AWOL for two years without any word to their direct reports, much less any plan to alleviate the effects of boss’s absence. The most generous possible interpretation is that upper management is wholly incompetent. The most likely interpretation is that your boss took an extended time off and got away with it on your backs.

  12. Kate in Colorado*

    “And since it sounds like he’s planning to apologize, know that you don’t need to respond to an that by assuring him it’s fine.”

    Absolutely this! You can extend grace, empathy, and understanding and also let it be known that his lack of communication was not okay. We have all had challenges the last 2 years, and your struggles in his absence are just as valid as whatever his struggles were. Please update us on how it goes!!

    1. Panda (she/her)*

      Exactly! For YEARS I responded to apologies with “it’s okay” even when it really wasn’t…because I didn’t know what else to say! I’ve switched my default response to “thank you” which acknowledges their apology without telling them it’s fine. You can expand on that if you want to, but if your boss apologizes and you need something to say then “thank you” is enough!

  13. LawBee*

    I mean. Oh, to have a job where I just don’t do anything for two years, and still get paid. Presumably. And then I’m allowed to come back.

    No advice, just pure bafflement. EVEN IF (fill in the blank wholly legitimate reason for the disappearance), it’s still mind-boggling.

    OP, congratulations to you and your team for keeping everything together. I suspect you’ve probably earned a nice raise.

    1. Esmeralda*

      We don’t know that levels above don’t know. Presumably if they did they would have communicated, but it’s possible they didn’t. Maybe missing-boss said he’d communicate it. And then didn’t. The work got done, no one above missing-boss checked…because the work got done.

      We don’t know that missing-boss got paid. We don’t know if missing-boss was on leave. We know nothing about missing-boss. Neither does OP.

      Let’s stick to the OP’s question: How do I handle missing-boss’s return? Especially since I (the OP) don’t know why missing-boss was missing. Alison’s advice is spot on. OP needs to hear what missing-boss says and how he says it. OP doesn’t have to feel ok about any of it and doesn’t have to say “that’s ok” to missing-boss. Etc

      1. Omnivalent*

        No, the work didn’t get done. OP says that the entire project they have been working on “is in chaos” and people have quit.

      2. AD*

        I said this before elsewhere but I think the boss is just one part of OP’s problem.

        If OP tried to escalate this or could not, for some reason, that’s one thing. But an organization where an MIA boss for two years did not result in *any* outreach from senior leaders or HR to this team is just bonkers. An “apology” from this individual (if he is even returning or planning to do this — this is something OP seems to have casually heard from others) would not rectify this, to me. If boss never returned, was this just going to go on in perpetuity? Was there no recourse or support available to OP or other members of this team? Is this organization (a lab in a bigger corporate structure, I would guess?) simply dysfunctional and has no HR to speak of? “I’m sorry” from the boss doesn’t really solve any of this or explain why it persisted for two years.

  14. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    Two years with no communication is, frankly, inexcusable. Either he majorly messed up or someone else in the hierarchy knew why he wasn’t around but didn’t say a word to the staff. Both are really, really bad.

    You don’t drop a team without a manager for 2 years with no notice, expect them to carry on with no guidance (or a temporary manager!) then come back and think it’s all gonna be ok.

    It won’t be. As the letter shows there’s going to be a lot of indignation over what has happened. I’d definitely wait to see what happens when he does come back – does he expect to just carry on like nothing happened? Is he actually going to reward those who kept the place running while he was gone? (It’s a small possibility true).

    Very much agree with the ‘if he apologises you don’t have to say it’s okay’ bit. Because it’s not okay.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      Yes, this whole situation is definitely a sign of some seriously messed-up internal communications. And since it seems like the higher-ups basically didn’t care about the team not having a boss so long as work got done, I wonder why they even bothered bringing him back.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        The worst one we had here was someone who was on staff for 2 years and being paid full time while only showing up for work a few days a month – blaming health issues for it. It took 2 years to get rid of him (paperwork in this firm in the UK is long…also he said he’d sue). But the difference there is at least we *knew* he wasn’t coming in to work and *why*.

        I’ve had a boss who was phenomenally hard to get hold of a few years back – she lived the other side of the country and never seemed to answer calls or come to our office – and that didn’t last past a year before HR got tired of us complaining and switched us to a manager in the building.

  15. Alex the Alchemist*

    Coming back after disappearing for two years? Are you sure it’s actually your boss coming back and not his evil twin?

    1. ZSD*

      Well, since the person coming back knows he needs to apologize, maybe it’s the good twin coming back. It was the boss who was the evil twin all along.

  16. Tenure Track Academic Full*

    Perhaps a separate posting on colleagues, reports, and supervisors who have been MIA for two years.

    I was commandeered for a new initiative by a director of another department May 2020 with the full support of my supervisor with NO input by me.
    I did the best I could with this person MIA and after a year working with her department but really we are in the third year of this and still no plan/end in sight.
    Stressful is an understatement.

  17. CatCat*

    Frankly, I’d be asking for a pay raise and bump in title at the 1:1, outlining all that you have taken on in the past two years.

  18. Lab Boss*

    I wish I had advice for you OP, but all I have is sympathy and gratitude. When my lab went largely remote I bent over backwards to communicate and support my team that had to spend parts of their days doing work on-site. Seeing how it turned out for you makes me really feel like I did the right thing (and I’ve been struggling a lot feeling guilty that I was able to do more WFH than they were).

    Your boss absolutely let you down. Even if he was snowed under, even if he had family crises, if he was physically able to pick up a phone or get his fingers on a keyboard he owed it to you and your team to make SOME kind of arrangements for you. Unless his apology includes an explanation of why he literally couldn’t possibly do that, I would be extremely skeptical. Other commenters have pointed out he may have had hardships you don’t know about. That’s true- but he was (apparently) fully willing to drop all of his responsibilities and none of his paycheck on your heads to deal with his private hardships, so why should you believe he won’t do it again?

      1. Lab Boss*

        We don’t know HE got paid, but he let his responsibilities drop onto his team and they certainly didn’t get paid more for the extra high-level work. Unless he was somehow physically incapable of doing the notifying, that’s on him.

  19. Apidae*

    So Boss hasn’t even reached out to the OP and team to let them know he’s coming back – the OP is hearing all of this second-hand from a different department?

    OP should contact upper management to ask if there is a confirmed return date for Boss. Either upper management has no idea that Boss peaced out for two years, or he left with their knowledge and they should be able to provide more information to the OP about his re-entry.

  20. She of Many Hats*

    I hope OP and their team takes time to outline for HR exactly how & when their roles evolved and expanded, what management duties were taken on, etc. so they receive recognition and compensation for keeping the lab operational while the manager was AWOL. Be sure to include documentation of where these lapses were and team members had to step up or step in. Because it sounds like the lab was pretty much ignored by the whole organization for 2 years.

  21. learnedthehardway*

    Honestly, the person you need to be speaking with is your manager’s manager. And that should have been done quite a while ago. If your manager is AWOL, then their manager needs to know about it and provide the direction you need to get your work done.

    1. anonymous73*

      This is what makes the least amount of sense to me. Why did OP and their team just go on as if nothing had happened? My first call once boss started missing things would be to someone above boss or an HR department. None of this makes any sense to me whatsoever. And if someone at the company knew about boss being absent, why was nothing done to assist the team?

      1. AD*

        This makes me curious too. If the boss didn’t come back (and I’m not 100% sure if he is, it sounds like something OP casually heard from someone else?) would OP and the others in this department just soldiered on indefinitely, overworked and understaffed?

        A lot depends on what the bigger organization is like — sounds like this is a lab within a corporate structure, perhaps? — but the fact that this department had no oversight from anyone for two years is more concerning to me than the boss’s behavior, frankly. Did OP reach out to grand-managers? Does this team have any contact with others in the org? Is there no HR?

    2. LW*

      My grand boss knew about the situation. When we asked “Where is boss? What’s going on?” he would respond with “I’m working on it.” My boss’s peer that all but took over the team in formality is switching to a new department. We have wondered if he was told to come back or risk being replaced.

  22. Economist*

    OP, one thing to watch out for is the boss realizing that you’ve kept things going so he decides that you can just continue those management tasks and he’ll do “leisurely” management duties. This happened to me–our new branch chief thought I did such a good job of being acting branch chief that I should just continue doing all those duties of running the branch. Note that I was not even a high enough grade to apply for the branch chief job and there was no suggestion of a promotion. I asked him what he was going to do. He responded that he would attend conferences and seminars, and also interview job candidates, but no actual management. I transferred to another branch.

  23. Hiring Mgr*

    It sounds more like an informal leave of absence or something, i mean it doesn’t sound like he was pretending to work all day. The boss may have been dealing with some major issues, covid related or otherwise. Presumably his own bosses are ok with all this…didn’t any of them ever communicate wth you or vice-versa…

  24. FG*

    So many questions. Regardless of his situation – there could be many legit reasons for being MIA – where the hell is HIS management? Were they blissfully unaware (and how does that happen?) Why did no one above him contact the team and have a peer or grandboss step in? It’s not just that HE abandoned the team, but everyone at his level & higher abandoned the team. I can understand a combination of not wanting to squeal + being nonconfrontational meant that the team just got used to the new normal. But jeez louise. It’s not the manager that’s the real problem here – it’s the entire organization.
    In addition to saying things like “it’s been hard” I would DEFINITELY be asking why management didn’t step up. I don’t think I’d feel I had a right to know what was up with him, but Ice definitely feel justified in an explanation about the business side.
    Finally … if people were taking on mgmt duties without explanation or compensation … I’d have a BIG problem with that.

    1. anonymous73*

      Honestly IMO the reason for his absence is irrelevant. Outside of something as serious as being in a coma or stranded on a desert island, there is no excuse for not communicating with your team for that long.

  25. bee*

    I often wonder how long it would take for anyone to notice if I just stopped doing my job (I think a week? Two, tops.) but TWO YEARS?? And he’s still being paid??????

    1. Anonymous Hippo*

      It takes less than 4 hours for me. If you can disappear for two years, IDK how one still has a job.

      I can’t understand how the team just let this happen either. Not really blaming, I just find it hard to imagine just not escalating this up and taking on all the work myself, and even if I could imagine that, I couldn’t let the boss just come back without making a huge stink.

    2. londonedit*

      Right?! I mean, on a day to day level I have a lot of autonomy in my job, and my boss doesn’t necessarily know what I’m doing all the time. But if I went AWOL for more than a day, questions would definitely be asked! And I’d very, very quickly start missing deadlines, and then serious questions would be asked. And it’d be the same the other way round – if my boss was totally offline for a day I’d firstly check the shared calendar to check I hadn’t missed that they were on holiday, but then the next day I’d be asking whether anyone had heard from them, probably sending them a text on their private number to check in, etc. After a couple of days I’d absolutely be checking in with my boss’s boss – just in a ‘Hey, I haven’t heard from Boss since Tuesday, and they missed our meeting yesterday morning. Do you know whether everything is OK?’ There’s no way someone could just stop doing their job without it being noticed.

    3. Emmy Noether*

      I think if I skipped meetings I could do two days, if I still went to meetings and bullshitted my way through them, I could maybe do a couple of weeks. If I worked about an hour or two a day to do the most obvious tasks, then more.

  26. Almost Empty Nester*

    Wait…what? Does he not have anyone above him to whom this situation was escalated? No one from above him communicated with your department? And you found out he was returning from an employee in another department? Holy banana crackers Batman! That is pretty dysfunctional stuff right there. No advice, just so many questions on how this has gone on for TWO YEARS without any management intervention.

  27. animaniactoo*

    I’m curious to know where HR has been in all of this. Because this sounds like something that HR should have been heavily involved in all along and definitely should be involved in now.

  28. Prof Ma'am*

    Oh man I 100% second the idea of not answering his apology with “it’s fine”. I am guilty of doing this when things are most certainly NOT fine out of fear of seeming bitchy but recently someone went radio silent when I needed them to do their job. They later apologize and I said “thanks, I appreciate that”. You can acknowledge the apology, you can accept the apology, but neither of those require you to pretend like what they did (or didn’t do) was OK.

    1. dawbs*

      Right, it’s something that took me a long time to learn (and I’ve learned it best working with kids who are VERY sure about what their words mean sometimes! ANd really, lets say you work in a store, and a kid is brought in to tearfully apologize for stealing a pocketful of marbles…you don’t want to say “that’s OK” because it’s NOT OK. They apologized but now is the time to make amends.)

      I totally want to channel Daniel Tiger here, but, that’s not helpful to most grown ups. (But there are some readers right now who are thinking the song “Saying I’m sorry is the first step…then how can I help?” )

      I tell them you recognize they apologized–“I appreciate the apology” or “Thank you for recognizing the problem” or “I’m sure that was hard to say”.
      Is not the same as saying “it’s ok” or “great, lets move on”. But you’re saying you hear what they say.

  29. Sucksville*

    I feel like wrote this. My boss isn’t quite this bad, but……yeah. She pops up here and there, but I never have any idea when or why.

    I get it, that past 2 years have sucked. I have a kid under 5, a parent with serious health concerns, a husband who spent 10 days in the hospital last year and came home without an eye. But I not only kept all my balls in the air, I’ve been keeping the bosses balls in the air, too. Meanwhile, she’s radio silent for weeks only to pop back up complaining about how her trip to Aruba got cancelled because she caught Covid. My sympathy is low, to say the least.

      1. Ali + Nino*

        Seconding wishes for easier times ahead! And “she’s radio silent for weeks only to pop back up complaining about how her trip to Aruba got cancelled because she caught Covid” – how oblivious can you be? Read the room, Boss.

  30. hmmm*

    Unless he was in communication with higher ups, I wonder if the company would even let boss come back after. It almost sounds like boss just expects to say sorry, be forgiven and come right back into the fold. I’m baffled if upper management would let this happen. What could boss possibly say – oops my bad I didn’t communicate for two years, lets have a welcome back happy hour? If his absence was for a legitimate reason, this someway somehow should have been communicated to his team. In my opinion who ever took charge on the team should be promoted.

  31. A Simple Narwhal*

    I would LOVE an update to this. I also echo others questions about how this managed to happen – does the boss own the company? Is there no grand boss? What the heck happened?

    OP I would also strongly lobby for a raise, possibly a promotion, and at bare minimum a fat bonus to make up for the last two years.

  32. Junior Assistant Peon*

    I had a similar situation once. They announced a merger between my division of the company and another. My division’s GM was fired, and the other division’s GM was to lead the combined business unit. The other GM left the company a few months later, and we were pretty much a ghost ship with no communication from upper management for the next 9 months or so. It was a really eerie experience for our division to run on autopilot for that long, and with the integration activities basically left hanging the whole time.

    1. Temperance*

      But that sounds like there was no one in the role, not like the person in the role decided to do nothing while collecting his pay.

  33. Emily*

    I would put together a formal status update or briefing highlighting the various issues, the risks they pose for the organization/team, and suggestions for remedying them. There’s a lot going on here, and he needs to be formally made aware of this so that he can’t say he wasn’t told, and so that you are not blamed for these problems. Also, by writing it up, you can have time to get the wording the way you want it to be — professional as opposed to accusatory. (Even though, obviously, this was not a fair situation for you to be in.)

  34. I AM Sparkling }:(*

    I do admire the LW for wanting to be kind and understanding instead of grabbing him by the collar and screaming, “where the holy fluffballs have you been for the past two freakin’ years of hell on earth, you jerk?!?!?”

    Even if he had been sick or dealing with some other personal crisis, someone above him should have at least told LW’s team that he’d be unavailable (no details necessary) for the forseeable future and done something to keep the department running smoothly in his absence.

    Count me in with those begging for an update!

      1. I AM Sparkling }:(*

        Emotions aren’t rational.

        He could and should have let his team know he’d be out so they knew what they were in for.

        We don’t know that he was actually on leave and not just flaking out on work the whole time.

        IF his superiors knew. We don’t know that they did.

        Most important of all, yelling at your boss’ boss would get you fired in a hot second :o

  35. bananas-n-chocolate*

    I’m so curious to know if OP clued anyone else above the boss in on what was happening? Ideally OP would have went to someone else and said “We’ve been trying to get boss’s input on XYZ project, but we can’t seem to get in touch. How should we proceed?”

    To just start taking on the boss’s role as decision maker seem really risky to me. What if the wrong decisions were made because OP didn’t have all the information and then that comes back on them? OP would then be responsible and the boss could simply say “I never authorized OP to proceed on that.”

  36. Isabel Archer*

    As soon as I read that OP had been “dealing with things way above my job title,” I wondered…why? Why wouldn’t you send up a flare? How could there be no one above you to notify or ask for help? But considering that OP did their boss’s job, without guidance of any kind, for two years(!!), recognition for that effort seems more important than how OP should treat the returning boss. A promotion and significant bonus seem due here.

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      OP, I sure hope you write back and update us all. We have so many questions

      At first I was wondering if the boss is more like a project manager where they are the boss of the project but they don’t do managery things like PTO requests, Performance reviews, things like that. But I’m not so sure. You mention having 1 on 1’s with him and I don’t know if a project manager does that.

      What I am really wondering about is why didn’t anyone from another department see this and say something. I can understand if you are in some type of weird hierarchy company where you can’t talk with people above your boss. But obviously, someone from the other department knew that the boss was AWOL. And they never said anything to anyone. Did no one from HR see that you were losing people and no one was communicating that they needed to rehire? Did they not do any type of exit interview?

      OP I would be skeptical but ask the boss why he never communicated anything to your team. explain everything that you explained in the letter. heck, maybe you can have a team meeting where he can explain everything? But I think this goes above you and your boss and shows disfunction in the entire company.

    2. Loulou*

      This is unfortunately the reality at a lot of orgs. Not the zero communication re: boss’s whereabouts, which is super weird, but the expectation that staff will work out of title in the absence of a manager. I too wondered why OP didn’t talk to their manager’s manager, but the end result could very likely have been the same.

  37. DivineMissL*

    In one of my previous jobs, my boss (a VP) had a wife who was diagnosed with cancer. The president told him to do whatever he had to do to take care of her and their two small children, and not worry about work. For about a year, VP’s attendance at work was very spotty; he was out about 80% of the time. I knew what was going on, as well as the other people in our department (and of course, the president and board of directors); but we didn’t share this information with the rest of the company as it was personal. I’m sure co-workers in other departments who didn’t know thought the VP was shirking his duties. About a month after his wife passed away, the VP returned to work. It’s possible that the OP’s boss’s boss knows what’s going on; but the fact that OP and co-workers have not gotten at least a brief explanation is very bizarre.

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      Your situation seems different than the OP. For you the people that it concerned, the department, knew what was going on and that he would be out, but others might not know. This isn’t someone from another department claiming the department head is AWO. This is coming from the people the boss is supposed to manage and they do not know whats going on. I can understand not telling the entire company but if someone who manages other people is not going to be available those people need to know.

      I’m giving the boss the benefit of the doubt and that he told someone higher up and for some reason no one thought it was important to let his department know.

  38. jane's nemesis*

    Like, who approved PTO requests? Who approved timecards (if needed)? It’s just nuts to me that no one above him noticed this guy wasn’t doing his job.

    1. Lunch Eating Mid Manager*

      all this. even if he wasn’t doing his own project work…. somebody else was signing all the paperwork, right?! Most manager level jobs have a never ending paper stream. If I’m out for an afternoon on the day timesheets are due, my staff would freak out immediately if I didn’t designate somebody else to sign theirs! And if one of their peers signed it because the boss was AWOL, it would immediately be kicked back by payroll for unauthorized signatures, and both people would be asked hard questions! Why did this not happen in this workplace?!

    2. Lily Rowan*

      We have someone in HR who will approve those things by the deadline if your supervisor hasn’t done it.

    3. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      Right. I keep thinking here that somewhere a few months into the pandemic, the boss really wasn’t WFH anymore and was on some kind of other more permanent leave of absence, but somehow that did not get communicated to the team. Which is awful in of itself!
      Because I can’t image a company paying someone for 2 full years of not working and failing to notice someone just wasn’t there. Someone had to do all that busy work managers do, or literally POs would not get processed and people would not get paid, which tends to be noticed.

  39. REbeca*

    I’m assuming this was addressed in the letter but not printed here, but: Why did the LW not approach senior management (above their own manager) for support 6 months in, rather than letting 2 years of chaos unfold?

    1. anonymous73*

      I seriously doubt Alison would eliminate that from the letter if it were there because it’s a pretty significant piece of information. It seems as if the OP was focused on how to handle their boss coming back and missed some key details in the letter.

  40. Sylvan*

    LW, I assume somebody has, but it’s not included in your letter. Has anyone spoken to your boss’s manager during his absence? What did they say?

  41. HannahS*

    One thing that I’ve found helpful, personally, when having awkward conversations where someone is apologizing to me to for something they did, but where I really don’t feel like saying, “It’s OK” because it’s very much not ok, is the phrase, “Thank you for your apology.” If your boss offers some hand-wavey excuses and half-hearted apologies, feel free to say something like, “Thank you for your apology. Things have been very difficult here, because XYZ…are you going to resume doing ABC? Because that’s a responsibility that I took on in your absence and it is beyond my job description.” That transitions the conversation back to work and moves past the apology.

  42. On Time*

    Wow I’d be really curious for an update on this one. I wonder if it was a matter of the longer it went, the more anxiety it produced for the manager and harder it became to address. Not that it makes it okay!
    Also repeating a lot of the questions in the comments – where was upper management here?

  43. anonymous73*

    I have more questions than advice, but I do want to emphasize Alison’s comment on your reaction to his upcoming apology. I have to get out of the habit myself of responding with “it’s fine” because if someone has done something to you to warrant an apology, it’s most certainly NOT fine. I try to go with “I appreciate your apology” but in this instance I would follow it up with a “but you need to understand what we’ve been dealing with over the last 2 years” and then detail all of the issues you’ve had while he was AWOL.

    If it were me it would be evident to boss that I thought he was full of crap from the get go because I have no poker face, so good luck with his return and please send an update.

  44. Gary Patterson's Cat*

    I find it really, really odd that your organization did not manage this. Nor were there any repercussions for the manager of a department basically NOT WORKING FOR TWO YEARS and missing customer meetings, and other basic work functions that still go on even if you are WFH. What the heck? Who manages your boss? Where were they at during this whole time? Because I find it hard to believe they did not see this “not work” happening.

    Is IS possible the person was on a true leave of absence or sabbatical and not actually WFH?
    That would make much sense here, but if that was the case the person’s team should have been informed the manager was out for an extended time, and had a replacement in reporting structure setup.

  45. Lacey*

    This is wild! I don’t need my boss for many things, but if my boss just disappeared and stopped answering emails or coming to meetings, critical work would not get done! He would be fired and replaced pretty quickly!

  46. Kammy6707*

    Is your boss’ name Andy? Was he on a boat? Because that’s the only scenario that came to my mind while reading this letter.

    1. Pamalamadingdong*

      Same! If he waltzes in and heads to accounting for his commission checks we’ll know it’s Andy! LOL

  47. C in the Hood*

    The only thing I can think of is that the boss told the grand-boss what was going on & expected grand-boss to fill everyone in…and then grand-boss didn’t?

  48. Aggresuko*

    I nth everyone else on “how do you still have a job and paycheck,” and also have my doubts that boss will actually return as an active participant at the job and actually go through with the 1-on-1.

  49. SJ (they/them)*

    I worked somewhere in the past where I could 100% see this happening. The key for my largely absentee boss was that our department was jointly supervised by two larger departments, but was housed in an entirely separate location from both. Boss was the only contact person with either of the supervising departments. As it turned out, Dept A assumed boss was busy 90% of the time with work for Dept B, and Dept B assumed boss was busy 90% of the time with work for Dept A. In reality, boss was running a side business 80% of the time and only around here and there.

    Long-term employees were used to working around this and just… did things without him. We had a jpg of his signature if worse came to worst. I struggled enormously in this environment, eventually quit, attempted to have an exit meeting with one of my boss’ bosses, who spent the entire time talking about what a hard worker my boss was!!

    Extremely stressful. Very bad. But it had been going on for years and years before I got there, and as far as I know has never stopped.

    1. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      We had a jpg of his signature if worse came to worst.
      That is fraud. Ethically, it should be reported, which would open the whole scam manager is pulling.

  50. Lobsterman*

    I want one of these jobs where you can ghost for 2 years and get paid, then come back and still get paid, so bad.

  51. Beth II*

    Does your boss…not have a boss? I’m surprised Alison didn’t address what other leadership in the organization were doing during this time. If my boss was gone and I couldn’t ahold of her I definitely would be reaching out to other people to say what is going on and get some direction. Unless they are a partner or something in the business, I don’t understand how they are still employed either.

  52. Juju*

    When higher ups have mysteriously disappeared at places I have worked, and no one will talk about where they are/ if they’re coming back/ etc., it’s been because of substance abuse problems. So maybe it had something to do with that.

  53. Off My Lawn, You Must Get*

    I’m just… Wow.
    Some folks earlier mentioned the boss showing up tanned and singing Jimmy Buffet.
    I’m more imagining him showing up with a volleyball named Wilson.
    Seriously, he has GOT to give some sort of explanation.

  54. RagingADHD*

    Alison, I’d love to see an addendum to the original question (and possibly your answer) since the additional information the LW is leaving in the comments *substantially* changes the basic framework of the story. Very substantially.

    The boss did not ghost, and the team was not left without direction or oversight. The boss’ absence was not a mystery to upper management or their own peers.

    In the comments, the LW has stated that:

    – Grand Boss was well aware of Boss’ absence, and had weekly meetings with LW’s team to provide guidance and support. The Grand Boss did not reveal why Boss was absent, but it was clear that they knew about the absence and were working with it. They regularly checked in with LW’s team to see what they could do to help.

    – Boss was not totally incommunicado. In particular, they signed off on everything that personally affected the team members, like PTO, promotions, annual reviews and the LW’s maternity leave.

    -The boss’s duties were formally taken on by another manager in the group, including answering any questions the team might have (though declining to discuss the reason for Boss’ absence).

    -The whole team got promoted six months ago, which at least in some measure acknowledges their increased workload and responsibility during Boss’ absence.

    – Boss has always been very private about their personal life, and this reticence about the reason for their absence is totally in keeping with that history.

    It is clear that, whatever the reason for Boss’ extended absence, upper management was choosing to work with it, and made at least some attempt to step up and support both Boss and the team. LW felt that support was inadequate. They were unhappy with the way it went, and particularly unhappy with how carefully the Boss and management are protecting Boss’s privacy.

    But the overall tone of confusion and abandonment in the original letter appears to be an illusion born of frustration rather than an accurate reflection of the situation.

    1. Anonnie*

      It’s the nature of advice columns. I bet the same is true for other letters, we just don’t have an OP giving more details in the comments.

      1. Nope.*

        This goes so far beyond just a lack of detail, though. The “updates” from the OP in some parts completely contradict what the original letter said.

    2. Willis*

      These are really good points. OP also says several times in the comments that they don’t know what arrangement was made between Boss and Grandboss, so it’s entirely possible that this was some legit leave and not a AWOL boss. The team should have asked for and Grandboss should have arranged for more oversight if needed, but they don’t need the details about why Boss was gone. I was in a somewhat similar situation where my boss was out for multiple months due to an extreme family situation with one of his kids. He worked haphazardly as he could often from hospitals and was partially paid vs having to take unpaid leave. We knew the story behind his absence but that was at his option, not something we were entitled to.

    3. AthenaC*

      I think you’re concluding a lot of things that are not correct:

      “Grand Boss was well aware of Boss’ absence, and had weekly meetings with LW’s team to provide guidance and support. They regularly checked in with LW’s team to see what they could do to help.”

      And LW said that level of support and oversight wasn’t sufficient for their department. On what basis do you conclude that you know better than LW what level of oversight is appropriate for their job?

      “Boss was not totally incommunicado. In particular, they signed off on everything that personally affected the team members, like PTO, promotions, annual reviews and the LW’s maternity leave.”

      And the LW made it clear that level of communication is significantly different than what they need to do their job such that “incommunicado” is an appropriate description. On what basis do you conclude that you know better than LW what level of communication is necessary and appropriate with their boss for their job?

      “The boss’s duties were formally taken on by another manager in the group, including answering any questions the team might have.”

      An SME to answer the occasional technical questions (and provide no further oversight / management) does not mean “the boss’s duties were formally taken on by someone else.” On what basis do you conclude that occasional technical guidance is equivalent to management and oversight? That’s … not how management works. At all.

      It looks to me like you don’t really understand how collaborative, project management-type jobs work and what a hardship it is to be missing the person responsible for managing the work, directing the team, making decisions, etc. That’s okay, but just be aware of your biases before assuming you know better than the LW what they need to do their job.

      1. RagingADHD*

        I am not concluding anything. I am repeating what the LW said, sometimes in multiple places.

        Perhaps you have only read a couple of the LW’s updates, instead of all 21 of them?

        The original letter gives a completely different set of facts than the comment replies do.

        1. AthenaC*

          Oh no – I read all the LW’s updates. That’s why I replied to you because your conclusions sound like you’re assuming you know better than the LW what they need to do their job effectively. Presumably based on your own professional experience, so hence the friendly reminder to check your biases and assumptions.

      2. Loulou*

        But RagingADHD didn’t say it wasn’t a hardship, and I don’t think anyone thinks OP’s company handled this well. Nobody thinks “no real manager for two years” is a good situation, but the original letter really suggested a much more complete absence of leadership than the comments.

      1. Loulou*

        I don’t think Alison should write a new answer because she answered the question as written, but I agree with RagingADHD that OP’s comments really changed my view of the situation and in many cases contradicted things that were said or implied in the original letter. I wouldn’t just call them “details.”

        1. LW*

          Thank you for these kind words Loulou. I think my learning here is that maybe these things just aren’t for me. I was looking for some help/advise on a situation that was just out of my hands. I think a lot of confusion is the 3 weeks between writing this letter and coming back for comments. When you are hastily writing an email in times of stress, you don’t think “oh, and let me add this little detail” but then it comes back when someone asks a question. I promise you all I’m not fake. I wish I could clear that up. I wish I could take out the inconsistency. But I can’t. I guess it’s the fun of text. I tried my best to represent what I’m going through but it seems I’ve missed the mark.

          1. Loulou*

            I think you might have been trying to reply to MY reply to a comment that has since been deleted. When a comment is deleted the replies to it usually are too. Anyway, you are far from the first LW who wrote a letter during a very stressful or emotional moment and then came back with a substantial update after the letter was published! You really don’t need to worry that anyone thinks it’s fake (I’m actually not even sure the person whose comment was deleted was accusing you of writing a fake letter, I think they may have just worded it poorly). Thanks for being such a good sport in the comments — we all want to help LWs and it’s very useful to learn more information than what’s in the letter.

            1. The Kirribilli Side-eye*

              That’s not an accurate representation you’re giving, though, is it?
              OP wrote that the team did what they could to solicit Boss’s involvement at first but it eventually became more trouble than it was worth (I’m paraphrasing). They also wrote that they had only had a handful of 1-on-1s in the two years and that their team had received little to no guidance. At no stage did they say that the Boss suddenly VANISHED.

            2. Jacey*

              I think that’s a VERY uncharitable way to take LW’s statement! I’m fairly sure they meant advice columns and/or possibly this comment section aren’t for them, which is fair to say since they’re getting jumped on pretty hard.

    4. The Kirribilli Side-eye*

      The Boss did most of their “HR-related” duties (for want of a better term), it sounds like. That does not compensate for them: flaking out more often than not on project meetings and even CLIENT meetings; failing to sign off on work products as required; or being available to give the amount of guidance required. OP has been clear that the assistance they were able to get from other managers/Boss’s Boss was not adequate, and it sounds like at no stage did the Boss themselves ever give OP the actual authority to sign off on things or make decisions in their stead – this was just something the team realised they had to do to avoid falling even further behind schedule.
      Nobody has said that the team deserved to know Boss’s personal or medical reasons for being like this. But it is certainly incumbent on either Boss or the company to tell the team that they shouldn’t expect any contact from Boss in the next X number of months!

  55. Thomas*

    One thing I’d add to Alison’s excellent point about not needing to immediately accept an apology or say something untrue like “It’s fine,” is to start by acknowledging the apology with gratitude with something like “Thanks for saying that,” or “I appreciate that you said that,” if those ring true for you, and then going to the suggestions Alison gave. It acknowledges the apology and the effort that a proper one requires, without “accepting” it or denying the impact that someone’s actions had on you.

  56. Tiger Snake*

    I’m hoping for a really dramatic update about how the boss was in a car accident that left him in a coma, and he’s only just been released from hospital with his memory returned.

    Hopefully the OP also tells us that it turns out the big boss knew and didn’t tell the team because he secretly assigned the role to his ex-secretary – who was also his mistress – so that his wife wouldn’t get suspicious of their continued affair.

    And the ex-secretary/temp-boss-who-neve-spoke-to-the-team was actually an undercover spy for a different company, whose attempts to steal the plans for the new product have been unknowingly foiled by the OP time and time again through a series of hilarious hijinks.

    But then the ex-secretary falls in love with the humble, but kind cleaner forgoes both the big boss and her evil ways to run away to live with him on a little farm away from civilisation.

    And then the OP gets a raise because everyone loves a happy ending.

  57. Been there*

    Many years ago I had a boss who stopped coming to work regularly, canceled or no showed for most meetings and became almost entirely non-responsive. I documented everything and begged my grandboss to intervene but they refused, out of some combo of conflict avoidance, burnout and personal loyalty. I suspected some kind of mental breakdown or acute addiction but never found out the actual reason. A few months later, my boss suddenly resurfaced and acted like it never happened.

  58. LW*

    Thank you for these kind words Loulou. I think my learning here is that maybe these things just aren’t for me. I was looking for some help/advise on a situation that was just out of my hands. I think a lot of confusion is the 3 weeks between writing this letter and coming back for comments. When you are hastily writing an email in times of stress, you don’t think “oh, and let me add this little detail” but then it comes back when someone asks a question. I promise you all I’m not fake. I wish I could clear that up. I wish I could take out the inconsistency. But I can’t. I guess it’s the fun of text. I tried my best to represent what I’m going through but it seems I’ve missed the mark.

    1. Jacey*

      LW, for what it’s worth, I think you’re handling this with a lot of grace and patience. Everyone makes bad calls on how to tell a story, particularly in moments of stress! And some of the problem is that some commenters (myself included!) are so blown away by the strangeness of the issue that we’re more busy marveling about that than actually giving advice.

      I hope you aren’t put off AAM completely, even if you chose not to visit the comment section again. It’s a wonderful resource, especially when you’re in a weird setting; I credit this site with realizing that a previous boss was not normal or reasonable, and I wasn’t at fault for her temper tantrums.

      Best of luck with your situation!

  59. raincoaster*

    Twenty years ago I took over a store that had more or less this situation. The manager had experienced some kind of personal crisis and gone AWOL for months. The staff thought he had some kind of arrangement with head office, and never said a peep: just stepped up and ran the store. It only came to light when one of the district managers showed up looking for him, as all his voicemails and emails were just never getting answered. The district manager couldn’t believe the staff had been managing the store all along (although the numbers showed SOMETHING was deeply wrong). He called me in as sort of a “what have we got to lose here” effort because my own position was tenuous at the time for unrelated reasons, and he told me I could prove myself.

    I did, in the end. But they never did give me that promotion they promised if I turned things around. And don’t any of you count on that happening, either.

  60. Hiding from my Boss*

    I was in a situation with some similarities. I started a new job and Boss was gone for long periods for a year, altho others at his level would “fill in.” Others, as in more than one interim acting head of dept. A long-time employee in the dept said, “It’s like we don’t HAVE a director.” Shortly after Boss returned supposedly for good, I was fired. Apparently my performance during all the absences (when I had little direction and it came piecemeal from all over) was sub par. HR’s position was that there was always someone in the driver’s seat during his absences so it shouldn’t have made any difference.

    Watch your back. Even if your boss’s absence was cleared thru HR, if there are problems when he returns, he could start looking for a scapegoat.

  61. Rosacolleti*

    What? Who has been approving your pay every week? Surely someone higher up has been informed? Did they really not assign responsibility for your team in 2 years?

  62. MCMonkeyBean*

    I’m very curious to know more about what was going on with the boss of course. Firstly I am wondering–is he just the boss of your department, or is he like a higher-up who manages a bunch of different things and just dropped the ball on your team in particular? If he was just your boss specifically and he just stopped showing up how did he continue getting a paycheck all this time? I’m hoping it is the former situation as that is easier to understand how no one in the company stepped in to say “hey maybe you don’t actually work here anymore…”

    As far as how to act when he returns, I almost feel like the easiest/least awkward way to move forward would be to just treat him sort of as a new boss. If your company had fired your old boss and hired someone new you would likely have to get them up to speed on what your department has been doing and you’ll basically have to do the same with your returning boss. (And then I would privately feel a bit resentful and vent about it to my friends/family outside of work lol)

  63. My two cents*

    I was once on unexpected leave as a manager of several offices. A family member called my boss and told him I was in the hospital. He told my team I was on leave and he wasn’t sure when I would return. I did not contact my staff and let them know what had happened. In fact, my boss didn’t know the details, other than I was hospitalized. He also informed my grand boss that I was on leave. I emailed HR, filed for FLMA with the required documentation and that was it.

    A few months later, I returned to work on a modified schedule for six months. During the time I was absent full time, the supervisors who reported to me took over my managerial duties. At our organization, managers and supervisors are required to have a delegation plan. The supervisors are trained to take over the manager’s duties. I was cross trained to take over my manager’s duties. If a supervisor or manager is out for an extended period, someone will be temporarily promoted to supervisor or manager and will receive a temporary pay increase. This plan ensures that our office operations continue. (We are office employees for a large organization).

    I believe that the manager’s boss and grand boss knew what was going on, but they dropped the ball. Perhaps this is a smaller operation, but if it’s large enough to have grand bosses, they need to get their act together.

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